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How third parties play in the Sunshine State

Third party presidential candidates don’t usually make waves. Most people prefer to cast their vote for candidates who have a stronger chance of winning: those affiliated with the Democratic and Republican parties.

But in swing states like Florida, where the 2000 presidential election was called by just a couple hundred votes and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader got more than that, third parties can make all the difference. They can draw just enough people away from one candidate to put the other over the top.

Founding Father James Madison warned about the debilitating power factions can have in politics in his Federalist No. 10 essay, describing it as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”

But, third parties argue, sometimes factions are needed to drive change.

In this crazy election, with so many voters unhappy with the mainstream choices, third party candidates Jill Stein (of the Green Party) and Gary Johnson (of the Libertarian party) are making waves. In Florida, 5.8 percent of voters say they’ll vote for Johnson and 1.3 percent say they’ll vote for Stein. Nationally, Johnson and Stein were polling at 7 percent and 2.4 percent respectively at the end of September, according to Real Clear Politics.

David Cobb, campaign manager for Jill Stein’s Green Party, explains third party campaigns as “a movement campaign that is designed to serve as the electoral arm for the growing demands for structural change.”

He says third party power isa direct continuation and reflection of movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15 (the minimum wage movement), which operate independent of Democratic and Republican Party leadership. Historically, third parties like the Liberty Party and the then-newly formed Republican Party brought anti-slavery agendas to vote.

As we head into the final stretch of this election, after Miami visits from both Johnson and Stein, we took a look at how third party candidates cut into the two mainstream candidates in the presidential elections in Florida since 2000.

While numbers-wise they may not take the majority, their presence can determine which way the state leans. This is what we found.

Voter returns in Florida presidential elections