Support scant for 3rd parties

It's lunchtime, and Mary Goode is leaning toward John McCain. By dinner, she admits she might be for Barack Obama.

But there's no chance that on Election Day she will be for any third-party candidate.

“This election is too important,” said Goode, a 43-year-old accountant from Charlotte. “That would just be like throwing my vote away. I'm not going to do that.”

Without Ross Perot and his flip charts, Bill Clinton might not have won the White House in 1992. If Ralph Nader hadn't won 32,000 votes in Florida, Al Gore might have moved into the Oval Office in 2000.

But this year, neither Nader, former GOP Rep. Bob Barr — running as a Libertarian — nor any of the other small-party candidates who have qualified for the ballot in some states appears likely to play the role of spoiler.

“… With the economy in the situation it's in, I don't think people feel like they have the luxury of just shopping around,” said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Iowa. They're saying: ‘Somebody has to fix this in a hurry and you know it's not going to be one of these third-party guys….'As much as people complain about the two major parties, people tend to vote overwhelmingly for them.”

There is a long history of third-party candidates in presidential politics, but few that could be called a success. Still, third-party candidates can affect the outcome.

While he did not win any electoral votes in 1992, Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote and helped push Clinton into office.

Nader did not come close to Perot's level of support in 2000, but because it came disproportionately from voters who were otherwise likely to vote for Gore, it was enough to swing the outcome of a tight race to George W. Bush.