BOSTON (CBS) – The late Ross Perot won nearly 20 million votes as a third-party candidate in 1992, just shy of 19 percent of the vote. And while no third-party candidate has ever won the presidency, events since the Perot insurgency prove they can play the spoiler.
It happened last time around and there’s ample reason to wonder if it might happen again.
Despite exit polls showing Perot drew support from equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, George H.W. Bush insisted he had cost him a second term. And it was a sign of things to come.
In 2000, Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy drew thousands of Florida votes that might otherwise have gone to Al Gore, likely handing the election to George W. Bush.
And last time around, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein drew more than enough votes in key swing states to account for Donald Trump’s winning margins.
With Trump-hating Congressman Justin Amash leaving the GOP and mulling a run as a Libertarian, his home state of Michigan, scene of a wafer-thin win by Trump three years ago, might see the anti-Trump vote split once again.
Consider the breakdown of voters who say we need a third party candidate, nearly four in ten in one national poll this year. And the party breakdown suggests more Democrats (37%) than Republicans (31%) might consider ditching their nominee.
Could 2020 be deja vu all over again? There are a few reasons to think it might not be.
Those poll numbers on support for a third party are down from a few years ago.
The sheer intensity of anti-Trump sentiment suggests potential third-party voters may think twice this time around. And the Democrats have a chance to nominate someone without the sky-high negatives that plagued Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Still, the populist frustration that boosted Perot in 1992 is still thriving. Stay tuned.