Could a third party-candidate steal the 2024 election? Experts say don’t count on it

Published: May. 4, 2023 at 6:37 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Biden vs. Trump is a scenario few Americans want to see it again, according to recent polling. Yet, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are the frontrunners for their party’s nominations in next year’s presidential election.

So, what are the chances a third party could steal the 2024 election? Experts say do not count on it.

“These parties arise out of discontent with the way things are going with governance in America,” said Dr. Allan J. Lichtman, Distinguished Professor of History at American University.

The latest Gallup poll suggests Americans have never felt worse about President Biden’s governing. Only 37 percent approve of the job he is doing. But, if Democrats nominate the president, is there an opening for a third-party candidate?

“So far, I don’t see really the formulation of a third party,” Lichtman said.

But Lichtman thinks if a serious third-party challenger surfaces, they would target President Biden with one exception.

“If the third party, this is very rare, almost never happens, represents a split within the opposition party,” explained Lichtman. “So, say (Ron) DeSantis gets nominated and Trump organizes a third party. That would be bad news for the Republicans.”

Ballotpedia recognizes more than 200 political parties in the U.S., but not all are on every ballot. The closest we have seen to a third party winning the presidency was Progressive Party candidate Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. He won 88 electoral votes.

Since then, all other third parties have played “spoiler” in elections like the Green Party’s Ralph Nader in 2000.

“Whatever effect they do have is almost always monkeying with the outcome and not actually winning the election,” said Georgetown University Associate Professor Dr. Hans Noel.

So, what about 2024? An NBC News poll last month showed only five percent of the country want both President Biden and former President Trump to run again and they are.

However, Noel said if a third party wants to be taken seriously, they should focus on congressional and gubernatorial races first.

“A lot of the third-party candidates go straight for the White House because that’s the exciting thing. So, we talk a lot about and I think that’s telling. I think it tells us that they’re not actually interested in governing. They’re interested in shaking things up,” Noel said.

Dr. Lichtman said the U.S. has had and will likely have two major political parties for the foreseeable future unless we get rid of the Electoral College.

“The majority of Americans would like to see direct election by popular vote. And if that were to happen, third parties would become much more important,” said Lichtman.