NEW YORK – Facing a likely choice between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden in the 2024 presidential race, many Americans are desperate for younger, less divisive options.
The large and potentially significant market for outside candidates – not seen since the 1990s – is a stark reminder that in the case of Trump and Biden, the two major parties are likely to nominate wildly unpopular candidates.
Their potential rematch in the 2020 elections comes as the nation grapples with economic unrest, sharp political division, a controversial U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Gaza and widespread calls for next-generation U.S. leadership.
According to a recent Gallup poll, approximately 63% of U.S. adults now agree with the statement that the Republican and Democratic parties are “so bad” at representing the American people that “a third major party is needed.” That’s up 7 percentage points from a year ago and the highest since Gallup first asked the question in 2003.
Both Biden and Trump face primary challengers but are expected to emerge as their party’s 2024 nominees, despite deep concerns about Biden’s age and the string of federal and state indictments against Trump.
No third-party candidate has won a modern U.S. presidential election, although he has sometimes played an exaggerated role as spoilers, taking away votes from major-party candidates.
In 1992, billionaire businessman Ross Perot won 19% of the vote, likely tilting the White House to Democrat Bill Clinton rather than incumbent George H. W. Bush.
Political activist Ralph Nader won less than 3% of the vote in 2000, but he took enough votes from Democratic candidate Al Gore in Florida to give George W. Bush victory in the state and with him the White House.
Now a Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and scion of the Democratic dynasty who announced an independent presidential bid in October, could win 20% in a three-way contest with Biden and Trump.
Kennedy is backed by SuperPac’s “American Values 2024” foundation, which has raised more than $17 million for his bid from several wealthy donors, including a former Trump supporter.
American Values 2024 held an event for Black and Latino voters in downtown Manhattan on Tuesday that drew about 40 people, including several who couldn’t identify the core tenets of Kennedy’s policies but said they appreciated his destructive potential.
“We have been looking for a rebel since Barack Obama. We thought he was a rebel, then we thought Bernie Sanders was a rebel. Back then we thought Trump was a rebel. Now we know, of course, that RFK is a rebel,” said Larry Sharpe, a former Libertarian candidate for governor of New York, who attended the event.
Both sides expressed concerns about Kennedy’s offer. Democrats fear that his famous name and pro-environmental and anti-corporate policies will resonate with some of their voters. Republicans fear his anti-vaccination statements and popularity on conservative platforms could gain some of their support.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll and other polls showed Kennedy winning fairly evenly over Republicans and Democrats in a three-way race. Democrats, however, take nothing for granted.
“Our general position is that anything that divides the anti-Trump coalition is bad. So any option offered to voters who simply cannot vote for Trump other than Joe Biden is problematic,” said Matt Bennett, co-founder of the center-left Democratic group Third Way.
Tony Lyons, co-founder of American Values 2024, told Reuters that Kennedy should not be considered a threat only to Biden or Trump himself. “He is a threat to a corrupt two-party system that does nothing to help the people in this room,” Lyons said at an event in Manhattan.
Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said: “Polls show President Trump is completely crushing Joe Biden, even in the presence of other candidates, both nationally and in battleground states.”
The Biden campaign declined to comment, leaving third-party criticism to outside groups such as Third Way that fear an outside bid could hand the election to Trump.
“PEOPLE WANT A BETTER CHOICE”
While cash flows into third-party options, Biden and Trump raise even more. In the last quarter, the president and his allies raised $71 million, while Trump raised $45.5 million.
No Labels, a third political party, has already raised $60 million for 2024 and has qualified for the ballot in 12 states, including the battleground states of Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina — without a candidate selected.
“We’ve spent the last two years trying to feel the pulse of the electorate and we keep repeating the same story, which is that people want better elections,” said Ryan Clancy, chief strategist at No Labels, a nonpartisan group making its first presidential bid after several years of supporting moderates in Congress.
The group courted former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia who recently announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate.
Asked if he was considering the White House offer, Manchin told NBC News on Wednesday: “I will do everything I can to help my country.”
Clancy said No Labels plans to hold a nominating convention in April and will choose a presidential candidate if a Biden-Trump rematch seems inevitable and if it believes its candidates can win.
Other third party candidates are seen as less of a threat. Cornel West, a philosopher and Black civic leader, is also running as an independent and hopes his brand of straight-talking, progressive politics will influence the 2024 debate.
Jill Stein recently announced that she will run for the White House again as the Green candidate. Both West and Stein are expected to receive a minuscule share of the vote and will have a difficult time getting on the state ballot.
In a recent interview with ProPublica, Biden was asked about his former Democratic colleague Joe Lieberman’s work with No Labels to identify and support a moderate third-party candidate. Biden noted that Lieberman has the democratic right to do so, but added: “Now it’s going to help another guy and he knows it.”