Number of presidential candidates to win Texas who were not either a Democrat or a Republican

Recent national attention on potential independent candidates’ ability to prevent presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump from winning the White House, while somehow denying it to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, tends to ignore two significant historical realities. Deadlines for seeking ballot access have passed in many states (although the judiciary may grant access), and these types of campaigns simply have not succeeded.

In Texas, not only has the deadline to apply for a spot on the ballot as an independent presidential candidate passed, but also no one has carried the state in its history who wasn’t a Democrat or Republican. Only twice since Reconstruction has an independent or a candidate from an outside party finished ahead of a major-party candidate.

  • In 1892, the People’s Party candidate, James Weaver, received more votes than incumbent President Benjamin Harrison, a Republican, but Democrat Grover Cleveland received 57% of the vote.
  • In 1912, Progressive candidate Theodore Roosevelt edged out incumbent President William Taft, a Republican, by just over 2K votes, but Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the state with 73% of the vote.

Otherwise, Democrats and Republicans have placed first and second in every other presidential election here.

Ross Perot’s 1.35M votes in 1992 is the most a third-party or independent candidate has ever received in Texas. A century earlier, Weaver’s 23.6% was the highest percentage a third-party or independent candidate has ever received here.

Highest Vote Percentages for Alternative Presidential Candidates in Texas

23.6% – James Weaver (People’s) in 1892

22.0% – Ross Perot (Reform) in 1992

19.0% – George Wallace (American Independent) in 1968

11.8% – (Texas Regulars) in 1944*

11.3% – James Weaver (Greenback Labor) in 1880

11.2% – James Ferguson (American) in 1920

9.5% – Theodore Roosevelt (Progressive) in 1912

9.3% – Strom Thurmond (States’ Rights Democratic) in 1948

6.7% – Ross Perot (Reform) in 1996

* The Texas Regulars was a group of anti-Franklin Roosevelt Democrats who sought to deny him an electoral college majority and send the election to the U.S. House of Representatives. After its slate of like-minded delegates chosen at the state convention were replaced by New Deal Democrats at a second state convention, the group fielded no candidate but waged a fairly significant campaign. The Texas Regulars received nearly 12% of the vote, not enough to keep Roosevelt from winning Texas. He received 71% of the vote.

Absent a national independent reaching the ballot, Texans will have two minor-party candidates to choose from: Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Jill Stein. Past performances by these two parties’ candidates in Texas suggest they are no threat to win the state’s electoral votes.

Libertarian and Green Presidential Candidates' Performances in Texas

2.1% – Ralph Nader (Green) in 2000

1.1% – Gary Johnson (Libertarian) in 2012

0.8% – Ed Clark (Libertarian) in 1980

0.7% – Bob Barr (Libertarian) in 2008

0.6% – Ron Paul (Libertarian) in 1988

0.5% – Michael Badnarik (Libertarian) in 2004

0.4% – Harry Browne (Libertarian) in 2000

0.4% – Harry Browne (Libertarian) in 1996

0.3% – Jill Stein (Green) in 2012

0.3% – Andre Marrou (Libertarian) in 1992

A write-in candidacy is still possible in Texas without judicial intervention. However, the most successful write-in candidate for president in state history, Ralph Nader in 2004, received just over 9K votes, roughly 4.5M fewer than Republican George W. Bush.