In the United States, there are two dominant political parties – the Democratic and Republican parties – as well as a number of smaller political parties that are commonly given the designation of "third-party." Three of the organizations that are considered to be "third-party" in the United States are the Libertarian party, the Green party and the Constitution party. Each of these third-party groups have been around at least 20 years and have a nationwide organization along with ballot access in a majority of states in America. While none of the third-party candidates put forth as Presidential candidates have ever seriously threatened to win, they have had a significant effect on the results in certain states and, most notably, the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election.
The Libertarian Party
The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 and is the largest of the third-party organizations, with ballot access in 48 states plus the District of Columbia (DC). The fundamental principles of the Libertarian party are promoting civil liberties, non-interventionism, laissez-faire economics and abolition of the welfare state . These four precepts can be summarized further into a single overriding goal which is the reduction of the size, scope and influence of government in the lives of American citizens. This party was officially formed on December 11, 1971, in response to the ongoing concerns about the Nixon administration, the Vietnam War and the end of the gold standard . Over the past 45 years, the Libertarian party has had success in winning congressional seats at the state level but has yet to win a Federal election for any U.S. Congressional seat. However, the presence of a Libertarian candidate has influenced the result in several Federal elections, most notably in the 2006 Montana Senate election where the Libertarian candidate, Stan Jones, won 2.55 percent of the popular vote which was far exceeded the 0.87 percent margin of victory for the Democrat, Jon Tester .
The Green Party
The Green Party was founded in 1991 and is the second-largest of the third-party organizations, having ballot access in 36 states plus the District of Columbia . The principles that the Green Party espouses are environmentalism, nonviolence, social justice, participatory grassroots democracy, gender equality, LGBT rights and anti-racism . Whereas members of the Libertarian party often find common ground with many tenets of the Democratic and Republican parties, members of the Green party tend to be much more aligned with the policies promoted by Democrats. However, in one of the great ironies of history, it was the presence of the Green party candidate, Ralph Nader, in the 2000 Presidential election that almost certainly prevented the Democratic nominee, Albert Gore, from winning the presidency, as the 97,488 votes he received in Florida far exceeded the 537 vote margin of victory for George W. Bush over Albert Gore .
The Constitution Party
The Constitution Party was founded in 1992 and is the smallest of the three third-party organizations with access in 26 states plus the District of Columbia . The Constitution Party is a conservative party and espouses the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Bible . Given its conservative and Christian-oriented viewpoint, members of the Constitution party tend to be sympathetic to and supportive of many of the initiatives put forth by the Republican party especially in terms of fiscal policy and opposition to illegal immigration. Similar to the other third-party organizations, the electoral success of the Constitution party has been limited to the municipal and state level as no Constitution Party representative has won a Federal election.