Green Party Nominates Nader for President Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1996, Ralph Nader made his first of three unsuccessful bids to become president of the United States. Backed by the Green Party, Nader overcame a number of barriers to garner 685,128 popular votes, or 0.71 percent of the popular vote.

Summary of Event

Throughout American history, a number of presidential candidates have run on third-party tickets, but one of the most controversial in the twentieth century was the candidacy of Ralph Nader. On August 19, 1996, Nader gave a speech in which he criticized the major political parties. Nader noted that it had become impossible to tell Democrats from Republicans in America, as both were beholden to corporate America. This speech was highly significant: It showed the important role that third parties can play in presidential elections. Nader’s idealism garnered support for his cause, although voters also had many pragmatic concerns about him. Green Party (U.S.) Presidential elections, U.S.;1996 Third-party presidential candidates (U.S.)[Third party presidential candidates] Elections;U.S. [kw]Green Party Nominates Nader for President (Aug. 19, 1996) [kw]Nominates Nader for President, Green Party (Aug. 19, 1996) [kw]Nader for President, Green Party Nominates (Aug. 19, 1996) [kw]President, Green Party Nominates Nader for (Aug. 19, 1996) Green Party (U.S.) Presidential elections, U.S.;1996 Third-party presidential candidates (U.S.)[Third party presidential candidates] Elections;U.S. [g]North America;Aug. 19, 1996: Green Party Nominates Nader for President[09530] [g]United States;Aug. 19, 1996: Green Party Nominates Nader for President[09530] [c]Government and politics;Aug. 19, 1996: Green Party Nominates Nader for President[09530] Nader, Ralph LaDuke, Winona

Nader had long been known as a consumer activist and political idealist. Born on February 27, 1934, in Winsted, Connecticut, he attended Princeton University, graduating in 1955, and studied law at Harvard University. In 1959, he served in the U.S. Army for six months and then started practicing law in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1964, Nader began working for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the assistant secretary of labor. In 1965, Nader published the book that secured his reputation as a consumer activist, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. Unsafe at Any Speed (Nader)

Nader continued his consumer activism throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, founding the nongovernmental organization Public Citizen Public Citizen and publishing numerous other books. Other Nader-inspired organizations include the Center for Study of Responsive Law, the Aviation Consumer Action Project, the Public Interest Research Group, the Center for Auto Safety, the Clean Water Action Project, and the Congressional Accountability Project. Nader was also largely responsible for a number of major federal consumer protection laws, such as the Freedom of Information Act (1967) Freedom of Information Act (1967) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974). Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) By the 1996 election, Nader was well established as a consumer advocate and citizen activist. His idealism and his high levels of public recognition attracted the eye of the Green Party, beginning a long relationship.

The United States Green Party is technically a federation of state Green parties that has existed since the mid-1990’s. The strongest support for the party has been on the West Coast, in the Northeast, and in the states surrounding the Great Lakes. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the party was active mainly at the local level. With the nomination of Nader as its candidate for president of the United States and Winona LaDuke as candidate for vice president, the Greens made a bid for power at the national level. This first bid garnered less than 1 percent of the national vote, but a subsequent 2000 presidential bid, in which Nader received almost 2.9 million votes (2.74 percent), figured in the outcome of that year’s presidential election.


Nader adopted many planks of the United States Green Party platform and offered a liberal and largely idealistic alternative at the voting booth. Nader supported the idea of gay marriage, yet most gay voters gave their support to the Democratic candidate, Al Gore. Gore, Al In his campaign, Nader continued to support consumer advocacy. True to Green Party values, he sought more funding for the National Park Service, decreased reliance on foreign energy sources, and limits on the commercial logging industry. Furthermore, Nader opposed the death penalty and was in favor of maintaining Roe v. Wade (1973). Nader supported the legalization of marijuana and supported rehabilitation over incarceration for drug addicts. Of paramount concern to Nader before and during his campaign was a focus on empowering citizens to create a government that is responsive to their needs.

When running for the presidency, Nader was aware that he had no chance of winning. Third-party candidates face tremendous challenges and find it difficult to draw voters away from the traditional Democratic and Republican parties. The institutional obstacles that limit third-party candidates include ballot access laws, filing fees, campaign finances, and the adoption of issues by the major parties. Nevertheless, in 1996 Nader and the Green Party were able to appear on the ballot in twenty-two states and acquired 685,128 popular votes, or 0.71 percent of the popular vote. Initially this appears to be a dismal failure, but Nader and the Green Party were very successful in a number of ways.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader speaks at a news conference after the Green Party formally nominated him for president in 1996. Nader made two more unsuccessful bids for the presidency in 2000 and 2004.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

The first area in which the Greens were successful was in challenging the traditional two-party system. This system is practically ingrained in American culture, but the Greens offered an alternative voice to those who felt their needs and interests were ignored by the mainstream parties. Although a mere fraction of the total population of the United States, the Greens were able to overcome a cultural bias and appear on ballots across the nation. In general, this can be a significant sign that there are voices unrepresented by the major parties and thus voters who are willing to turn to third parties. In this particular case, Nader emphasized the similarities between the Republicans and the Democrats and their connections to corporate America.

In many cases, Nader and the Greens were also able to overcome the barrier of ballot access laws. Each state has its own bureaucratic hurdles that a minor party must leap to be listed on the ballot. The procedures to do so vary from state to state, but even by 2007 only fifteen states had granted full ballot access to the Green Party. Nader’s presence on the 1996 ballot made political strategists for both Bob Dole and Bill Clinton worry that Nader would siphon away enough votes that the opposition would win.

A second barrier that third parties have to overcome is the fear on the part of voters that casting a nontraditional vote is a waste of a vote. Third parties have little chance of being elected to high office; thus the voter is disinclined to vote for third-party candidates. However, it can be argued that citizens who vote for third-party candidates use their vote to register their disagreement with the major candidates and thus to send a message to the winning candidate—although a counterargument makes the case that it is impossible to determine what, exactly, third-party support indicates. Regardless, the more support a third party receives, the more attention is paid to it, both by the media and by the major parties. In 1892, for example, the Populist Party received 8.6 percent of the popular vote; after the election, the Democratic Party adopted a number of Populist positions, in effect incorporating the Populist Party into its fold.

After running for president in 1996, Nader remained willing to run for public office. He ran in 2000 as a Green with LaDuke as his running mate and received 2.74 percent of the popular vote. In 2004, Nader ran as an Independent with Peter Miguel Camejo and garnered only 0.4 percent of the popular vote. Although Nader never won, he left his mark on American politics. Along with other third-party presidential candidates such as business tycoon Ross Perot, Nader helped to revitalize the acknowledgment of third parties in the United States. Furthermore, Nader’s candidacy in 1996 paved the way for his 2000 campaign, an unforgettable race that had an impact on the major parties and arguably decided the electoral college vote in favor of George W. Bush. Green Party (U.S.) Presidential elections, U.S.;1996 Third-party presidential candidates (U.S.)[Third party presidential candidates] Elections;U.S.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bibby, John F., and L. Sandy Maisel. Two Parties or More? The American Party System. 2d ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2003. Presents an overview of third parties, surveying the impact they have had. Includes an appendix of third parties as well as a glossary of terms related to party politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Collet, Christian, and Jerrold Hansen. “The Declining Significance of Ralph.” In The State of the Parties: The Changing Role of Contemporary American Politics, edited by John C. Green and Daniel J. Coffey. 5th ed. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. A thorough overview of the changing role of American political parties. A chapter by the editors explores Nader’s three campaigns for president and assesses the efficiency of his endeavors.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herrnson, Paul S., and John C. Green, eds. Multiparty Politics in America. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997. Collection of articles that examine the possibilities for a multiparty system in America, the performance of third-party campaigns, and prospects for third parties.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sabato, Larry J., and Howard R. Ernst. Encyclopedia of American Political Parties and Elections. New York: Facts On File, 2006. Along with an article discussing the United States Green Party, this reference work offers entries on terms, candidates, and parties throughout American political history.

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Categories: History