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Spin Control

Wed., May 19, 2010, 2:58 p.m.

Third Party candidates have it tough

The results of a study by the National Institute on Money in State Politics concludes that third party candidates face long odds at getting elected.

Which may rival "it rains in Seattle" for the least surprising conclusion of the week. But at least the institute puts some  numbers behind what most people inherently know. They could toss a bit of cold water on anyone planning to run outside the two major parties, even in a year in which many people say the two party system isn't working very well (or at all).

The Helena, Mont., based institute  studied nearly 6,200 third-party candidates over the last nine years, and found just 2 percent won.

Those who ran as independents or members of the Progressive Party, did the best among that tiny universe. Between 2001 and 2009, a total of 1,136 candidates ran as independents, and 36 won. That's more than any other third party, the study said...although it should be noted that "independent" isn't a third party, it's the absence of a party. The Progressive Party had 85 candidates and won 25 seats, although 24 were in Vermont where the Progressives actually qualify as a major party.

Those running as Libertarian or Green Party candidates -- the parties that are arguably the most organized, visible and vocal of the nation's other organized political organizations -- were among the least successful. The Libertarians have an awful win ratio: 2,382 candidates filed, 1 winner. The Green Party's ratios and wins were better, but hardly something that would inspire confidence: 653 candidates, 4 wins.

The institute studied five states closeup, but Washington and Idaho weren't among them. Too bad, because Washington has a long tradition of third party attempts, with candidates claiming allegiance to the American Heritage, Reform, Independent, Constitution, Natural Law, Green, Socialist Workers, Libertarian, Commons, America's Third, Progressive Democrat, True Democrat and Salmon Yoga parties making appearances on partisan ballots.

And none of them won.

Idaho has a smaller crop of third party types, mainly Libertarian and Constitution parties in recent years. Although some would argue that in much of Idaho, being a Democrat is like being a member of a third party.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.