Regardless of the zero victories by third party candidates in United States Presidential elections, third party candidates– especially Ross Perot and Ralph Nader– have had substantial effects on recent presidential contests. Dallas Morning News Washington correspondent Carl Leubsdorf has a nice summary of recent (and historic) third party runs for President, and explains why Americans Elect is unlikely to be a factor in 2012:
Some of the bigger names among insurgents won electoral votes, like Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond in 1948 and George Wallace in 1968, but failed to alter the outcome.
Others mainly influenced the conversation; Ross Perot had sufficient support in 1992 and 1996 to qualify for the televised debates, a rarity for third party hopefuls.
Most past insurgent candidates, like the two Wallaces and Perot, formed a party for their candidacies. Others, like Nader and the Greens or Johnson with the Libertarians, utilized existing organizations.
By contrast, Americans Elect, a collection of wealthy sponsors, dissatisfied centrists and political neophytes upset by today’s partisan gridlock, is getting ballot space first and then trying to recruit a candidate. The first stage of its online primary is supposed to pick six finalists, but none of the declared candidates have yet showed sufficient support.