Cravings for less Washington gave the Libertarian presidential entrant a record vote count while a tight Obama-Romney race hurt the Green Party, officials said.
The nearly 1.2 million votes won by Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican New Mexico governor, supported public-opinion polls showing "consistently that a majority of Americans want less government than we have today," party Executive Director Carla Howell told United Press International.
Johnson, 59, who initially sought the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, won the Libertarian nod at the party's May national convention.
His nationwide vote count -- the highest count of the minor-party candidates -- represents about 1.2 percent of the total popular presidential vote in the 48 states in which Johnson ran, a UPI analysis of Tuesday's results indicated. Johnson was denied ballot positions in Michigan and Oklahoma.
His vote count also beat the previous Libertarian Party record, set in 1980 by lawyer-politician Ed Clark, of 921,128 votes, or 1 percent of the nationwide total.
Johnson had the strongest showing as a percentage of statewide presidential votes in Alaska, Maine, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming, the UPI analysis showed. He had the weakest showing in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Howell told UPI Wednesday the voter desire for radically less government was so powerful that Johnson might have won Tuesday if the media had covered his campaign more fully and if the Commission on Presidential Debates had let him debate Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
"If he had been in the debates, he possibly would have been the president-elect right now," she told UPI.
The commission, which sponsors and produces the debates, is currently directed by former Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. and former Clinton administration press secretary Mike McCurry, a Democrat.
Critics say the commission excludes third-party and independent candidates.
Johnson participated in three minor-party debates -- two sponsored by the non-profit Free and Equal Elections Foundation advocacy group and a third by five-time alternative presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
Two of those debates -- one sponsored by Free and Equal and the other by Nader -- brought together Johnson, Green Party nominee and former Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Jill Stein, Constitution Party nominee and former GOP U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, and Justice Party nominee and former Democratic Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.
The third debate, sponsored by Free and Equal, was held between Johnson and Stein.
Unlike the Obama-Romney debates, none of the minor-party debates were broadcast live by the major U.S. TV networks or widely covered by the major news media.
Stein, a 62-year-old Massachusetts physician who tallied the second-highest vote count of the minor-party presidential nominees, "did less than we expected" in Tuesday's election, party Media Coordinator Scott McLarty told UPI Wednesday.
She garnered more than 400,000 votes in 37 states, or an average 0.5 percent of those states' popular presidential vote tally, the UPI analysis indicated.
McLarty told UPI he'd expected Stein would tally closer to 1 percent.
A CNN poll released Friday indicated Stein would win 1 percent and Johnson 4 percent. The poll had a 3.5 percentage-point error margin.
Stein campaign manager Ben Manski said in a statement Tuesday's results were "five times better than in the previous election cycle. I feel good, and hopeful."
Stein had the strongest showing Tuesday in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Maine and Oregon and the weakest in Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Virginia and Wisconsin, the UPI analysis indicated.
Alaska and Maine are states where Johnson was also strongest.
McLarty told UPI he believed Stein's lower-than-expected totals were "because so many people saw the Obama versus Romney race as a dead heat, so a lot of people who otherwise might have wanted to vote for Dr. Stein probably voted for Obama."
"The interesting thing about that is that people probably voted that way in states where it didn't matter because of the Electoral College," he said.
Obama unofficially won the popular vote against Romney by 2 points, 50 percent to 48 percent, but he won the Electoral College, at least so far, by a wider 303 votes to Romney's 206. In all states but Maine and Nebraska, electors are awarded on a winner-take-all basis.
Florida's 29 electoral votes are expected to remain in limbo for a couple more days. Obama led Romney in Florida Wednesday evening, 49.9 percent to 49.3 percent, with fewer than 50,000 votes separating them, the Florida Division of Elections said.
Critics argue the Electoral College system is inherently undemocratic, giving swing states such as Florida, where candidates sometimes win by small popular-vote margins, a disproportionate influence in presidential elections. Proponents argue the college is an important, distinguishing feature of U.S. federalism that protects the rights of smaller states.
Besides Florida, swing states this year were Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Howell told UPI the Libertarian Party -- whose slogan is "minimum government, maximum freedom" -- planned to move forward by seeking to enlarge the party through alliances with supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who sought this year's GOP nomination for president and is widely known for his libertarian positions.
It would also seek ties with "tea partiers, disenfranchised Republicans, independents, Democrats" and others who "share our goals and want to see government downsized from the dangerously high spending levels that it's at today."
McLarty told UPI the Green Party planned to focus on local elections, especially 2014's midterm elections.
In 2010, the Democratic Party suffered massive defeats in the midterm elections, with many congressional seats switching to Republican control.
"The one thing that we want people to understand coming out of this [presidential election] is that there's a really desperate need to change our election system in the United States to make it more democratic," McLarty said.