Americans are unhappy with politics. But a third party faces an uphill battle

·6 min read

Democrats are unhappy with President Biden. And a number of Republicans are fed up with their party’s standard-bearer, former President Trump.

But are disenfranchised voters mad enough to consider going for a third party?

The idea may be tempting to voters for a few reasons.

Polls show Democrats are looking for a leader other than Biden, whom many saw as a caretaker figure to end the Trump presidency rather than an inspirational figure. Survey after survey shows a majority would prefer a different choice in 2024 than the sitting president, who insists he is running for reelection.

Republicans, meanwhile, are badly divided over Trump, who remains the most powerful force in the GOP. While the twice-impeached former president is weakened, he remains the favorite to win a primary.

If Biden and Trump end up in a rematch as their party’s nominees, plenty of people think it might give room for a credible third-party bid.

“I believe a healthy democracy provides more than two options for voters,” said Peter Daou, a left-wing activist and political consultant who’s publicly pushing for another option to what he sees as the country’s flawed political system.

“I’ve become a strong advocate for a third party that promotes leftist values, along the lines of the Green Party,” he said.

As an intellectual exercise, the concept of a third option seems plausible, even appealing. A choice beyond Biden World who offers a contrast to Trump could be just right for those seeking solutions and are tired of the tenor of today’s politics.

The concept has sparked particular interest among progressives like Daou, who are disillusioned that Biden hasn’t accomplished more. Many backed Biden in the general election.

But putting together a viable alternative to the Republican and Democratic nominees is much harder in reality.

The recent high-water mark for a third party in a presidential race was Ross Perot’s independent bid in 1992. The Texas businessman took 18.9 percent of the popular vote, but not a single electoral vote. Perot won just 8.4 percent of the total tally four years later.

John Anderson, another high-profile independent candidate, won 6.6 percent of the vote in 1980.

Those numbers show just how hard it is to mount a third-party candidacy, even if the electorate is dissatisfied with the mainstream choices.

Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur who ran for the Democratic nomination in 2020, has started a new venture called the Forward Party that he hopes will allow voters to consider the possibility of something beyond the two-party system.

Yang recently announced he is teaming up with the Serve American Movement, run by ex-Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), and the Renew America Movement, co-founded by former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R), to form the new group.

Yang, Jolly and Whitman announced the alliance in a recent Washington Post op-ed, but said it is not intended to compete in the next presidential cycle.

“This is about creating real choice for American voters, with a new party that can solve problems both large and small, starting in their own communities,” spokesperson Joel Searby said in a statement to The Hill.

“Some of our biggest supporters are former Republicans who sacrificed party standing to defend democracy,” Searby added. “Others are former Democrats, disillusioned with their party’s dysfunction. Still others have never felt at home in parties that always failed to represent them.”

Yang’s announcement was met with widespread skepticism given the difficulty such movements have had in recent decades.

“I think they’re earnest for the most part in giving people another option, but they’re talking among themselves and all these people who voted for Joe Biden,” Tim Miller, a “never Trump” Republican and author of the new bestseller “Why We Did It,” said of those taking up a third-party bid.

“If you believe these Republicans are an evil threat, you should be doing things that maximize the ways to beat them,” he added.

Some also worried that backing this kind of effort will ultimately benefit Republicans, regardless of the intention.

“It will disproportionately draw voters who would vote for Democrats away from Democrats,” Rachel Bitecofer, a Democratic pollster who served as an adviser to the Lincoln Project, said of a third-party push. “I 100 percent understand why it’s attractive to them, but I also understand why it’s so dangerous.”

In 2016, some Democrats saw Green Party candidate Jill Stein as hurting Democrat Hillary Clinton on the margins. In 2000, many blamed Ralph Nader, another Green Party contender, for costing Democrat Al Gore the state of Florida to Republican George W. Bush.

Democrats unimpressed with Biden don’t necessarily think adding another party is the right solution.

“It ends up being much harder in the practical reality than it does in the theoretical,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic operative who served as a senior adviser on Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“Yes, it is about a party, but it’s also about an individual and whether you trust the person and the ideas they’re campaigning on. What they will have to convince voters is not just what they stand for but they will be able to go to Washington to get those things done,” Finney said.

And anti-Trump Republicans are equally skeptical.

“All of these people are all part of the Joe Biden coalition,” Miller said of those he thought might consider a third party in 2024.

As a result, he argued it would almost certainly hurt a Democratic candidate, saying it would be “cleaving off part of the Joe Biden coalition.”

Sam Anderson, a master’s student at the University of Michigan and a registered voter in the state, said alterations to the way elections are cast would change his opinion on a third party.

“I love the idea of a third party if our election system looked different,” said Anderson, who voted for Biden in 2020. “In some places where ranked choice voting is being implemented, a third-party could offer more choice without being a ‘spoiler.’”

In ranked choice voting, voters choose candidates and list them by personal preference, creating a tiered system. The goal is for a candidate to emerge as the majority of voters’ first choice. If that doesn’t happen, contenders are disqualified based on how few votes they get until a winner is chosen. This system is currently used in Maine.

“In other places where our traditional first past the post system wins out, I’m seriously concerned a third party could hand the election to someone as dangerous as Donald Trump,” Anderson said.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.