Politics Could a third-party candidate win the White House in...

Could a third-party candidate win the White House in 2024? Paleologos at the polls

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A Viable Third Party Candidate: Could We Have One in the 2024 Presidential Election? Did they win? According to today’s Suffolk University/USA Today national poll of registered voters, Americans are practically clamoring for a third-party presidential candidate — or at least someone who isn’t a Democrat or Republican. We asked voters, “Do the two major parties—Democrats and Republicans—do a good job of representing the political views of Americans?” A majority (60%) responded that either a third party or several parties were necessary, with only 1-in-4 registered voters (25%) responding that 2 parties were good enough and the rest undecided.

Unlike many other issues in our nation, support for more parties is not one-sided. Voters on both sides of the aisle—especially voters in the middle—are all screaming loudly. 69 percent of independents want to see three or more parties in the United States. Among registered voters who said they would vote for former President Donald Trump in 2024, 49% still want to see three or more parties. Among registered voters who said they would vote for President Joe Biden in 2024, 67% chose 3 or more parties.

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Therefore, a hypothetical third party candidate in 2024 need not rely solely on independents. Even though 30% of registered voters in our poll are independents and “independent” is the fastest-growing party ID nationwide, large swathes of Democratic and Republican voters in Washington remain underrepresented or misrepresented.

If it’s true that many voters in both parties are dissatisfied with how the parties are doing, we’d expect weak enthusiasm for Trump and Biden in 2024, even within their own parties — and that’s exactly what we find in the polls. 69 percent of registered voters overall — including 50% of Democrats — do not want President Biden to run for re-election. Meanwhile, 65% of registered voters — including 34% of Republicans — don’t want Trump on the ballot. Party loyalty to Biden and Trump wanes, creating a huge opportunity for new voices to enter the conversation should this be a general election matchup.

The most notable recent example of a viable third party candidate occurred in the 1992 presidential election, when independent Ross Perot received 19% of the general election vote against Bill Clinton (43%) and President HW Bush (38%). In states like Nevada, Kansas and Maine, he got between 25%-31%.
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Perot captured a significant portion of the electorate, which included millions less independents than we have today.

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There are clear parallels between the 1992 election and today’s election. The national debt continues to rise from 63% of GDP in 1992 to 137% of GDP in 2021—a figure that would make Perot turn in his grave. One wonders if he were alive, would he be disappointed that we have made little progress on issues like abortion and gun control. Rising wealth and income inequality may have partially supported his proposal to raise income and capital gains taxes on the wealthy. Perot’s views certainly could not be boxed into any party, and yet each has broad popular support today.

Third-party skeptics will point out the obvious: Perot lost to Clinton and Bush, finishing third among three major candidates without winning a single state. Additionally, when it comes time to vote, giving your support to a third-party candidate who is trailing in the polls feels like throwing away your vote.

But a presidential election in the United States is not just about Election Day and its outcome. It’s almost a year from the Iowa caucuses to the first Tuesday in November, and campaigning starts long before then. Every four years our country tunes in, informs itself and decides what issues are most important and discusses possible solutions to those issues. Every election, the importance of the issues and their proposed solutions changes. The national conversation shapes what the winner’s four years will look like.

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For that conversation to be inclusive and representative of the diverse beliefs and experiences in this country, we need more than two people on every discussion forum in 2024. Every media outlet that hosts a debate must commit to having either candidate on stage. An average of more than 5% in polls, or a more reasonable percentage than used in the past.

According to the poll, 76% of all registered voters say we are on the wrong track; 67% say the country has become more divided under President Biden, despite campaign promises to unite us. 66 percent of Americans believe we are in a recession or depression. Two established political parties are not solving today’s problems. Do these data points open the door to a viable third-party candidate in 2024?

David Paleologos is Director of the Suffolk University Political Research Centre.

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