According to a recent report by FiveThirtyEight, the presence of a third-party candidate would create a “nightmare scenario” for Joe Biden and bolster Trump to a stunning re-election in 2024.
The report says a third party candidate rematch would pull marginal support away from Biden, subtly shifting the election in Trump’s favor. Although it remains uncertain if such a scenario would truly result in a spoiler candidacy, historical trends and common sense suggest that third-party candidates tend to have a more significant impact when the overall race is close.
The kicker? The participants weren’t asked about Robert Kennedy Jr.
Many pundits believe that if he were to launch a 3rd party candidacy, it would throw an even greater monkey wrench into the election.
Several surveys conducted since late May have tested potential nominees for third-party bids, such as the bipartisan No Labels ticket or Cornel West’s Green Party candidacy. In head-to-head matchups between Biden and Trump, the polls consistently showed Biden holding a small lead or the two candidates tied. However, when a third-party option was included, Trump gained ground and often took the lead. The surveys offer various explanations for this shift, with Trump generally holding onto Republican support more firmly than Biden does with Democrats, while shifts among independent voters showed inconsistent patterns.
Check out the chart below from FiveThirtyEight that gauges what happens when a third party candidate is thrown into the mix:
More analysis from Geoffrey Skelley’s report:
These surveys offer different explanations for the small shift in margin toward Trump when a third-party option is included. Across the polls, Trump tended to more firmly hold on to Republicans than Biden did Democrats, while the shifts in preferences among independents were inconsistent. Data for Progress’s poll examining Hogan’s possible impact found that Trump benefited from Biden’s reduced advantage among independents, while Echelon Insights’s survey testing Manchin found more Democrats broke away from Biden to select Manchin than Republicans left Trump. Meanwhile, polls from Emerson College and Echelon Insights measuring West’s impact found the progressive mainly cutting into Biden’s support among Democrats, although the Emerson survey also showed more independents shifting away from Biden than Trump.
“Early 2024 polls demonstrate how, in a close election, third-party campaigns from the center and left could potentially help Trump against Biden. Of course, other scenarios could also drastically alter the electoral environment,” Skelley adds.
Finally, Steven Shepard of Politico adds the following insight:
Third-party candidates don’t need to have large magnitudes of support to swing an election. Ralph Nader, the Green Party nominee in 2000, may have tipped that election away from Al Gore and toward George W. Bush by earning 2.7 percent of the national vote. And while the Green Party’s 2016 candidate, Jill Stein, only received a little over 1 percent, her share of the vote in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the three decisive states Trump flipped that year — exceeded Trump’s winning margin over Clinton.
If potential candidates like Joe Manchin and Cornel West could force a small swing, imagine what a formidable third party candidate like RFK Jr would do to the 2024 election.