The US is unique in only having two major political parties. Since our nation’s inception, there has largely only been one party representing the conservatives and one representing the liberals. There have been exceptions to the rule, however, and they are fascinating to look at considering how throughly the Democratic and Republican Parties dominate modern politics. The following three elections are how crazy elections can get when they escape the two party duopoly
The 1912 Election has the distinction of being the only Presidential election that had three nominees that actually were US Presidents, Republicans nominated William Howard Taft for a second term. Democrats nominated Woodrow Wilson (who would go on to serve two terms), and the Progressive Party nominated former President Theodore Roosevelt, who was running for an unprecedented third Presidential term. This election also has the distinction of having the highest ever percentage of the vote cast for a Socialist candidate. Eugene Debs received 6% of the vote.
The election was essentially a contest between competing liberal visions for the country. Teddy Roosevelt campaigned for women’s suffrage, a national income tax, an 8 hour work day, farm aid, direct election of Senators, a social security program, guaranteed health insurance, primary elections for all offices and an overhaul of campaign finance. Woodrow Wilson campaigned on creating a central bank, workers compensation, and loans to farmers. Wilson subscribed more to classical economics and was less protectionist than Roosevelt, but ended up enacting most of his agenda as President. Eugene Debs Socialist platform called for essentially all of Roosevelt’s reforms as well as bank nationalization, DC suffrage, national referendums, the ability to recall elected officials, stripping the Supreme Court of key powers, the abolition of the Senate, unemployment insurance, and an Alaskan style wealth sharing plan.
The incumbent President, William Taft, was simply too conservative for the era, despite being an economic protectionist, backer of antitrust laws and proposing a postal banking system. He faced a primary challenger from a progressive Republican. As a result of how progressive this era was, it is the only election where the REpublican party placed third nationally.
75.42% of the vote went to candidates who campaigned as either Progressives or Socialists.