Analysis: Rick Scott was one of ten governors to win election without a majority vote — most in a century

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Rick Scott is one of ten governor’s nationwide to be elected this year without support from a majority of voters. It’s only the third time that has happened since 1916.

Scott earned just less than 49 percent of the vote this November against Charlie Crist. But they weren’t the only two dogs in the fight. Libertarian Adrian Wyllie earned 3.8 percent of the vote in the race, thus making it possible for a winner to emerge with less than half the vote.

This phenomenon is becoming more and more common in the United States. According to a Smart Politics analysis of more than 1,850 gubernatorial elections since 1900, the rate of governors being elected without majority support is at its highest in a century at 27 percent.

Since 2010, 24 of 90 governors races have been won by a candidate by less than half the vote because a third party or independent candidate garnered part of the vote. This trend is on the rise and that could be good news for third party candidates.

Plurality-elected governors has risen from just five percent in the 1940s, 50s and 60s to 10-percent in the 70s and 80s and then 16 percent in the 90s. In the decade after the millennial, 20 percent of governors were elected by less than half the vote.

Since 1990, just over 9-percent of gubernatorial elections have had a third party or independent candidate win at least 10-percent of the vote. That was not the case in this year’s election in Florida where Wyllie only brought in 3.8-percent, but Wyllie’s candidacy still made waves. Throughout campaigning he polled well with some surveys showing him earning votes in the double digits. Because the election was highly competitive though, it is possible that some Wyllie supporters voted for one of the major party candidates over Wyllie to avoid casting a “throw-away” vote.

The Smart Politics analysis also found another trend in races with strong third party or independent showing. Of governors elected through plurality for a first term, only 46 percent were re-elected. Scott was not a part of that group. He was elected by less than 50-percent of the vote in 2010 against Democrat Alex Sink. Scott brought in 48.9 percent of the vote. An independent candidate, Peter Allen, brought in just over 2 percent.

The trend shows something of a divide. While a clear majority of voters are casting ballots for candidates in one of the two major political parties, more and more Americans are placing their support within outside groups.

The debate has spilled into other areas leading to conversation about how to better accommodate third party candidates. Alternative election strategies like publically financed elections and instant run-off voting have entered the not-so-mainstream debate as other parties continue to fight for relevance.

Publically-funded elections would give all candidates a set amount of money to spend during a campaign and would come from taxpayer dollars. This method has been praised by critics of money in politics, but criticized for giving the government too much control over campaigns. Instant run-off voting is an abstract idea that would allow voters to rank candidates by preference. That would allow, for example, a voter to cast a ballot for a Green Party candidate, but have a second choice if their first choice didn’t earn enough of the vote to win.

These ideas, and others, have failed to gain traction among elected officials and the majority of voters. That majority, not surprisingly and quite obviously, is overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.