Third-party candidates could (actually) influence the election, putting Biden in real danger of losing

(Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Third-party candidates could (actually) influence the election, putting Biden in real danger of losing

Doyle McManus

January 8, 2024

This year’s presidential election campaign will likely go down in history as a year in which voters contemplated a rematch that no one really wanted.

President Biden and former President Trump are likely to win their parties’ nominations. Yet a recent Associated Press-NORC poll found that 58% of Americans dislike the idea of ​​Trump running again, and 56% are dissatisfied with Biden for remaining in the race.

That gives an enormous amount of power to those who hate both, the “double haters.”

That happened in 2016, when voters who hated Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton broke in Trump’s favor. And again in 2020, when the double haters abandoned Trump for Biden.

But this campaign has another wild card: independent and third-party candidates.

Early polling has shown that when voters are offered a third choice, up to 17% use it enough to influence the election.

These numbers do not predict what will happen in November; In most years, the number of third-party votes declines rapidly as Election Day approaches. But it’s further evidence that voters long for choices other than the ones looming.

And that has led to a growing list of independent and third-party candidates: Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who made his name as an anti-vaccine militant; Cornel West, a prominent black academic and socialist activist; Jill Stein, the Green Party’s likely third nominee; and perhaps most intriguingly, a well-funded group called No Labels, which hopes to run on a ticket with a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat.

That’s more of a problem for Biden than for Trump. Strategists from both parties believe some of the president’s current voters may be more likely to abandon him if they see a palatable alternative. A Bloomberg-Morning Consult poll in seven swing states last month found evidence of that: 16% of Biden voters said they might vote for Kennedy or another independent candidate, while just 11% of Trump voters said they would they were tempted to choose the third party. route.

Historically, no third-party candidate has ever won a presidential election, but several have managed to tip the balance.

That happened in 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt,

a former Republican running for the Progressive Party,

split the Republican vote and handed the White House to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. And in 2000, when Democrat Al Gore lost Florida by 537 votes, perhaps because Green candidate Ralph Nader collected more than nine votes.


000 votes

in the state.

And in 2016, Hillary Clinton lost the key states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania with fewer votes than Stein collected

in those states.

The past weeks

[Friday Jan. 5]

average of polls compiled by the website Real Clear Politics, when voters are offered more than the two major party candidates, Kennedy draws about 14% of the national vote; West and Stein each attract 2%. (The No Labels proposal cannot be tested in the same way because the group has not named any candidates.)

However, the most important factor at this stage is not short-lived voter preferences. What matters is whether any of those third-party candidates can get on the ballot in the closely divided battleground states that will almost certainly decide the presidential election: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin.

The national numbers aren’t important, said Doug Sosnik, a longtime Democratic strategist who worked for President Clinton. All that matters is how these candidates do in the states that will decide the elections. That’s where a few percentage points can decide the whole thing.

That’s why many Democratic strategists are most concerned about No Labels, the well-funded group that has an electoral lead in all fifty states. So far, No Labels has won access to elections in fourteen states, including the battleground states of Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina. Stein’s Green Party is also likely to be on the ballot in most states.

Kennedy only qualified in Utah. West’s prospects are uncertain; it is unclear whether he has the funding or organization to mount a nationwide voting access effort.

Last week, Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, issued a new warning to Democratic donors to avoid labels.

Their own polls say they would lose and be a spoiler for Trump, Third Way Executive Vice President Matt Bennett

accusations said

to email.

No tag contests

those accusations, that statement

and says the polls show that with 34% or more of the vote, it could win enough states to muster a majority in the Electoral College. Political professionals consider these simulations far-fetched.

It is still unclear whether No Labels will sell a ticket at all. The group planned a convention this summer and then canceled it.

But if any of those third-party candidates get on the ballot in battleground states, it will place an additional burden on Biden.

When a president runs for a second term, the election is normally a referendum on his record. Biden hopes to flip that script and win by turning the election into a referendum on Trump. Third-party candidates could disrupt that by offering anti-Trump voters an escape route.

That means Biden won’t be able to win just by stoking fears of his predecessor’s return. He will have to present a solid argument that the third-party escape route is just another way to elect Trump.


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