Although the third party candidates do not appear to have played a significant role in this election, there are a few states where their presence may have altered the outcome.
Of all the states, North Carolina is the most likely candidate for a third party impact. Obama defeated McCain by only 11,000 votes, but Bob Barr received 25,000. There were 14,000 write-in votes for other candidates. It is feasible that the third party candidates, especially Barr, may have tipped the state to Obama.
In Indiana, Obama edged out a 23,000 vote win, but Barr received 28,000. Technically, Barr’s total is enough to give Obama an edge over McCain, but, realistically, not all of Barr’s votes would go to McCain. Barr may have widened Obama’s lead, but he is not likely to have changed the outcome.
In Missouri, where just 6,000 votes separate McCain and Obama, the conservative third party candidates Barr and Chuck Baldwin combined for over 19,000 votes. The liberal third party candidates Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney polled over 18,000. Essentially, the conservative and liberal third parties cancelled each other out. Despite the close race, it is unlikely the third party candidates made much difference.
Besides those three states, the third party candidates seem to have had about the same effect as 2004, which is minimal. In this year’s election, Nader and Barr only received about half a percent of the vote each.