If any state would be expected to have a big third party vote, it would be California, as it has several third parties and the outcome for the presidential vote was never in doubt.
But the opposite happened. Third party voting was nearly non-existent. The AIP, Green, and Libertarian parties got substantially fewer votes than their number of registered voters. Peace & Freedom did get more, but only because Nader ran on their ticket, not because he is a member.
California third party registrations, Oct. 15 2008 (pdf)
AIP 370,405, 2.14%
Green 118,416, 0.68%
Libertarian 83,574, 0.48%
Peace & Freedom 56,350, 0.33%
California presidential votes 2008
Barack Obama 6,286,024, 61.1%
John McCain 3,828,147, 37.2%
Alan Keyes (AIP) 30,433, 0.2%
Cynthia McKinney (GP) 28,337, 0.2%
Bob Barr (Lib) 50,896, 0.5%
Ralph Nader (P&F) 80,695, 0.8%
Sure, it’s hard to run against the two major parties and to get the message out. But remember Ross Perot in 1992? He got 18% of the vote. Sure, he could self-finance and that helped hugely. But he also had a message that resonated with many. That’s what third parties needed in 2008 and didn’t have.
One optimistic note for third parties:
Cindy Sheehan got a quite respectable 17% against Speaker of the House Pelosi.
Nancy Pelosi 126,073, 71.6%
Cindy Sheehan 29,951, 17.0%
Dana Walsh 16,149, 9.2%
Philip Z. Berg 4,024, 2.2%