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Third-party efforts likely to fail again in race for president


April 19, 2023

It’s the year before a presidential election, which means it’s once again time for a group to call for a unity ticket of a Democratic and a Republican for president and vice president or for an independent candidate to avoid the dysfunction of the parties entirely.

The current effort by the No Labels group to get a presidential ballot line in all 50 states for 2024 is being treated as something of a novelty, but we’ve seen something like this in most modern presidential elections. Just four years ago Unite America was proposing a bipartisan unity ticket for 2020, pushing the major parties to commit to having a vice presidential candidate of a party different from their own.

Such efforts don’t get far. It’s not for lack of resources or energy but, rather, because these efforts are founded on a substantial misreading of American politics.

The plans begin with claims about Americans’ dissatisfaction with the two-party system and with the choices they get in elections. “The vast majority of people in America are not happy with the direction of the country and they don’t want to see either Joe Biden or Donald Trump as president,” said former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican who is a strong No Labels backer. This view is also supported by polling.

But it’s a misleading view.

Americans dissatisfied with the direction of the country in general has been under 50% for two decades. The major parties themselves have been viewed unfavorably by the public for many years. And yet … party voting is as high as it’s ever been.

About 94% of Democrats voted for Joe Biden in 2020. The same percentage of Republicans voted for Donald Trump that year. Some 99% of partisan offices in this country are held by Democrats or Republicans. Americans may say they want other options, but they don’t vote that way.

Groups like No Labels point to the growing number of “independent” voters — today about 45% of voters consider themselves independent, far outpacing affiliation with either of the major parties. This is true but, again, misleading.

Even if many voters choose not to call themselves a Democrat or a Republican, we know that a great many of those lean toward one of those parties.

The percent of Americans who are truly independent — those who actually jump back and forth between the parties — is still a little less than 10% and that hasn’t changed over time. And that segment of the population is far less likely to turn out to vote than the partisans.

We had a great test of this theory in 2016. That election was between the two least popular major party nominees in the history of polling, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Plus, there was a credible alternative on the ballot — the ticket of former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. If ever there were a reason to not vote for a major party and a way out of it, it was then. And it didn’t happen — Johnson/Weld pulled 3% of the vote.

There are sharp ideological differences between the major parties today. That’s why Republicans and Democrats vote for their candidates, even if they don’t like them. Having the other party control the government just seems too horrible.

Third-party efforts may sound appealing, but they stand little chance of winning the 2024 presidential election.

— Seth Masket

Los Angeles Times


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