DemDaily: The Third Party Factor

March 19, 2024

Although the United States has operated under a two-party system since the early 19th century, there is nothing in the Constitution that mandates or proscribes the formation of any political party.

Third-party candidates, often driven by an issue or a policy agenda, have often played a significant part in US electoral history, representative of an autonomous voice guaranteed under the First Amendment.

While an independent candidate has never won a race for the White House, their influence in drawing from, or endorsing, a major party candidate has had a demonstrable impact on the outcome of numerous presidential elections.

The largest traditional third parties include the Libertarian Party, founded in 1971, the Green Party, active since the 1980s, and the Constitution Party, which grew out of the US Taxpayers Party, founded in 1992. Independent candidates are those who secure a place on the ballot through signatures and run with no party affiliation. A more recent addition is No Labels. a heavily funded political non-profit that is expected to announce a presidential "unity ticket" in the coming weeks.

With a historically polarized electorate and dissatisfaction with the two major party nominees, the landscape is ripe for an alternative presidential candidate, who needs to peel away only 1%-3% from either President Joe Biden (D) or former President Donald Trump (R) to sway the election.

In response to the threat, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has launched a full-scale national campaign to counter third-party and independent presidential candidates who may be spoilers to Biden's reelection.

In addition to dedicated staff and resources, the DNC is mobilizing an army of support from outside political action committees and Super PACs. Those include well-funded Democratic-oriented groups like Third Way, American Bridge, and Move On, and the newly established Clear Choice whose founder, Biden campaign veteran Pete Kavanaugh, stated, "This election is a clear choice between President Biden and Donald Trump. No third-party or independent candidate has any chance of winning a state in November, never mind reaching 270 electoral votes. They are spoilers, plain and simple."

In 1992, Independent (later Reform Party) candidate and billionaire Ross Perot's idiosyncratic platform attracted 18.19% of the popular vote -- the highest share won by a candidate outside of the two major parties since 1912 -- enough to deny incumbent George H.W. Bush a second term and guarantee the White House for Bill Clinton.

Another Super PAC, Citizens to Save Our Republic -- comprising prominent current and former bipartisan lawmakers led by former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and former House Speaker Dick Gephardt (D-MO) was formed last year with the specific intent of stopping the No Labels' movement.

In addition to the risk of No Labels is the independent candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who is running on a right-wing program of vaccine denialism and conspiracy theories. Kennedy, who hails from Democratic Party royalty, has been able to capitalize on his family name, despite running on issues in conflict with their legacy. His siblings have endorsed Joe Biden.

Other 2024 candidates include likely Green Party nominee Jill Stein, who secured 1.1% of the vote in 2016 -- the same year Libertarian Gary Johnson and running mate Bill Weld won 3.3% -- and leftist public intellectual and activist Cornel West.

The leading Libertarian Party contender for 2024 is former Georgia Senate candidate Chase Oliver; at least three other committees have ballot access on some level.

In 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader received almost 3% of the national popular vote, arguably siphoning off enough votes, most notably in Florida, to ultimately cost Democrat Al Gore the election against George W. Bush.

Third Way, a centrist think tank and vocal opponent of No Labels' third-party movement, argues that no independent candidate can win and any No Labels ticket would only redound to Trump and the GOP's benefit.

A Februry 27-March 1 G2 Strategies/Third Way poll showed that, when given the options of Biden, Trump, or a "moderate, independent" candidate, a mere 16% opt for the third party choice.

A majority of respondents who indicated their third-party preference would otherwise be Biden voters: Trump's support drops from 46% to 40% when a moderate independent candidate is introduced, while Biden's drops from 45% to 37%.

The poll also showed Kennedy would siphon more votes from Biden than Trump. 46% of would-be RFK supporters would otherwise vote for Biden, compared to 36% for Trump.

A March 9-14 McLaughlin & Associates survey put Kennedy's support at 12%, more than enough to tip the balance in the November 5 general election.

DemList will keep you informed.

DemDaily: No Labels Launches "Unity" Campaign 3/15/24
DemDaily: It Begins! The Biden-Trump Rematch 3/13/24
DemDaily: Fighting Joe Biden is Back! After Fiery SOTU 23/11/24
DemDaily: The Super Tuesday Turning Point 3/6/24

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Politico, Washington Post, WSWS, ABC, NPR, Third Wave, No Labels

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