While third party and independent candidates win fewer elections than members of the two major parties, they can often affect an election, especially if their supporters would have voted for a different candidate had they not been in the race.
In 2018, 143 third party or independent candidates received more votes than the margin between the top two major-party candidates. We’ll refer to them as noteworthy third-party candidates.
This figure includes five candidates for U.S. Congress, 16 candidates for statewide office, 115 candidates for state offices elected by districts (such as the state legislature), and seven candidates in local elections within Ballotpedia’s coverage scope.
These 143 candidates included 54 Libertarians, 41 independent or unaffiliated candidates, and 19 members of the Green Party. Republicans won 27 of the 51 races with at least one noteworthy Libertarian candidate while Democrats won the remaining 24. Of the 15 races with a noteworthy Green Party candidate, Democrats won 11 while Republicans won four.
There were two noteworthy third-party U.S. Senate candidates, both in races Democrats won. In Arizona’s open-seat race, Angela Green (G) received more votes than the margin between Kyrsten Sinema (D) and Martha McSally (R). In West Virginia, Rusty Hollen (L) exceeded the margin between incumbent Joe Manchin (D) and challenger Patrick Morrisey (R). The three noteworthy House candidates, including two Libertarians and one member of the Reform Party, all ran in seats Republicans won.
Three 2018 gubernatorial contests, all for open seats, involved noteworthy third-party candidates. Independent candidates Oz Griebel (Conn.) and Greg Orman (Kan.) contested races Democrats won, while the Republican candidate won the Florida gubernatorial election with noteworthy Reform Party candidate Darcy Richardson.
Five states with 10 or more noteworthy third-party candidates accounted for more than half (83) of all such candidates in 2018. These states were:
- Vermont: 32 noteworthy candidates including 17 independents, eight members of the Vermont Progressive Party, and four Libertarians
- New Hampshire: 17 noteworthy candidates including 15 Libertarians and two independents
- Maryland: 13 noteworthy candidates including 10 Green Party members, two Libertarians, and one independent
- West Virginia: 11 noteworthy candidates including six independents, four Libertarians, and one member of the state Green Party affiliate
- Michigan: 10 noteworthy candidates including six Libertarians, two members of the Working Class Party, and two members of the state Constitution Party affiliate