Could a third-party candidate win the White House in 2024?
A viable third-party candidate: Could we have one in the 2024 presidential election? Could they win? According to today’s Suffolk University/USA TODAY national poll of registered voters, Americans are practically screaming for a third-party candidate for president — or at least anyone who isn’t a Democrat or Republican. We asked voters, “Are the two major parties – Democrat and Republican – doing a good job of representing the political views of Americans?” A majority (60%) responded that a third or more parties are needed, with only 1 in 4 (25%) registered voters responding that 2 parties are good enough and the rest undecided.
Unlike many other issues in our country, support for more parties is not a one-way street. Voters on both sides of the aisle, especially those in the middle, are all shouting loudly. Sixty-nine percent of independents would like 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% would still like to see three or more parties. Among registered voters who said they would vote for President Joe Biden in 2024, 67% would like 3 or more parties.
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Thus, a hypothetical third-party candidate in 2024 would not need to rely solely on independents. Even though Independents made up 30% of registered voters in our poll and “Independent” is the fastest growing party ID nationally, many Democratic and Republican voters feel underrepresented or misrepresented. represented in Washington.
While it’s true that many voters in both parties are dissatisfied with how the parties are faring, we would expect low enthusiasm for Trump and Biden in 2024, even within their own parties — and that’s is exactly what we find in the survey. Sixty-nine percent of registered voters overall, including 50% Democrats, do not want President Biden to run for re-election. Meanwhile, 65% of registered voters, including 34% Republicans, do not want Trump on the ballot. The party’s waning loyalty to Biden and Trump creates a huge opportunity for new voices to enter the conversation, if this were the general election game.
The most significant recent example of a viable third-party candidate occurred in the 1992 presidential election, when independent Ross Perot won 19% of the general election vote against Bill Clinton (43%) and the President HW Bush (38%). In states like Nevada, Kansas and Maine, he received between 25% and 31%. Perot captured a sizeable swath of the electorate, which numbered several million fewer independents than we have today.
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There are clear parallels between the 1992 elections and today. The national debt has continued to swell, from 63% of GDP in 1992 to 137% of GDP in 2021 – a statistic that could roll Perot to his grave. One wonders if he was alive, if he would be appalled that we have made little progress on issues like abortion and gun control. Rising wealth and income inequality may have partially justified his proposal to raise taxes on the income and capital gains of the wealthy. Perot’s views certainly could not be locked into either party, and yet each enjoys broad popular support today.
Third-party skeptics would point out the obvious: Perot lost to Clinton and even Bush, placing third out of three major candidates without winning a single state. Also, when it comes time to vote, throwing your support behind a third-party candidate who is lagging in the polls can feel like spoiling your vote.
But presidential elections in the United States are not just about Election Day and its outcome. From the Iowa caucuses to the first Tuesday in November, it’s almost a full year, and the campaign starts long before that. Every four years, our country goes online, learns, and identifies the most important issues and debates possible solutions to those issues. With each election, the importance of the issues and the proposed solutions change. The national conversation is shaping what the winner’s four years will look like.
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For this conversation to be the most inclusive and representative of a diverse set of beliefs and experiences in this country, we need more than two people at every stage of the debate in 2024. Every outlet hosting a debate should Commit to having on stage any candidate who averages in the polls above 5%, 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. Sixty-six percent of Americans believe we are in an economic recession or depression. The two established political parties do not solve today’s problems. Do these data points open the door to a viable third-party candidate in 2024?
David Paleologos is Director of the Center for Policy Research at Suffolk University.