Third party electoral voting: what will this mean for our democratic candidates?

Exploring the effects of third-party voting on Democratic candidates and the potential challenges it poses for their electoral success.

It is no lie that as the elections are coming closer and closer per day, the US presidential line up is starting to be analyzed on a deeper level by United States voters. With the most recent presidential debate between Biden and Trump, it has prompted voting groups to reconsider voting for them in favor of third-party  candidates.  The  question arises: will the third-party candidate draw more votes from the Democratic base or from disillusioned voters across the spectrum?

Historical and Current Landscape

Third-party candidates have periodically disrupted the political landscape in the United States, their presence often siphoning votes from one of the major parties.  Independents  began  to   outnumber Democrats  and  Republicans  in  1991, according to Gallup, with some exceptions between 2004 and 2008. Presidential election years usually see a drop in the percentage of political independents, so these figures could still change in the upcoming weeks.

The presence of several prominent alternative candidates has taken much more attention this election season than any other time before. With a well known third party candidate involved, it’s unsure how the elections will go this season but we certainly have our inferences. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. ended his Democratic party campaign in October to run as an independent, polling at a current 7.5% estimate in the  race  against  Trump  and  Biden

Other candidates, such as Dr. Colonel West, who campaigns for truth and justice, and Chase Oliver, running as a libertarian candidate, also catch many voters’ eyes as they diverge away from the classic Democrat and Republican runners.   Green Party candidate Jill Stein has attracted  voters  with  her  pro-worker,  anti-war, and climate-action policies, although she only draws support  from  1%  of  registered  voters  nationwide.

Most take in consideration that  Third-Party  and  independent  candidates  usually  fall  short  every year.  The  political  climate  is  charged,  and  voter  sentiments  are  more  polarized  than  ever.  As  the Democratic candidates navigate their campaigns, they must account for this new variable.

Potential Impacts

One of the most immediate concerns for Democratic candidates is the potential for  vote  splitting.  If a significant portion of the electorate is swayed by the third-party candidate, it could detract from the Democratic  vote  share,  potentially  handing  the  election  to  the  opposing  party.  While  sometimes overlooked, vote splitting is a problem in American elections, particularly in metropolitan  areas with minority populations. Following each election, political observers evaluate whether the winner’s margin of victory indicates a “mandate to govern, ” which makes identifying such a mandate increasingly difficult as the number of candidates increases and vote splitting alongside it.

In other aspects, Democratic candidates may also take the approach of feeling compelled to adjust their policies to appeal to a broader base. Referring to the current U.S. president Joe Biden, the  New   York Times  writes that in terms of his promises, “Last Monday, it was forgiving student loans. This week, it was calling for tariffs on Chinese steel. Soon, President Biden is expected to protect federal land in the Alaskan wilderness.”

Democrats are focusing on themes with broad appeal, such as abortion rights and democracy. Although the president’s recent events have helped highlight his commitments to key constituencies, the slow pace of government activity raises the question of whether the targeted policy reforms will be enacted in time to answer voters’ concerns and aid his campaign. Democrats would then need to turn their focus to  Biden’s policy  pledges  now that people are becoming more interested in non-leading candidates, which could lead to changes in campaign methods and messaging as they try to win over undecided voters.

People’s Choice

The anticipated rematch between President Biden and former President Trump will see both candidates trying to capture the independent vote. In 2023, an average of  43%  of  U.S.  adults  identified  as  independent, matching the 2014 high.  Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans identifying as Democrats hit a new low of 27%, a shift from the trend where Democrats generally held an edge.

Third parties gained more traction with the electorate positioning themselves locally and broadened their messaging to encompass more of the political and social challenges in the U.S and its global affairs. By expanding  their  focus beyond singular issues and connecting their main concerns with other related challenges, third parties consequently received a significant rise in support. However, their narrow focus and the major parties’ strategy of incorporating key third-party issues into their own platforms still create fighting challenges to successfully claim their presidential positions, but that doesn’t stop them from impacting the two-party candidates.

This leads us to believe that since many of the once democratic voters are now shifting their votes to independent party candidates, an overall democratic figure in the presidential race is now losing its place against the republican party. And while voting for a third party candidate seems to feel more applicable with the current candidate run, it may not be as impactful as one would hope it to be. This presses a challenge for the democratic party to redeem itself in  voting  numbers, standing at a 39.5% poll result, and having the republican party at a 1.9 percent lead.

What Now?

As we anticipate the upcoming election, the role of the third-party candidate cannot be overlooked. For Democratic candidates, this adds a layer of complexity to an already challenging campaign. The increase in the percentage of independents has come more at the expense of Democrats than Republicans, which might be expected since Democrats were previously the largest political group. The impact of third-party electoral voting on our democratic candidates will unfold in the coming weeks, and we’re definitely in for a ride.

Nardine El-Dalil
Nardine El-Dalil
Undergraduate student at George Mason University, majoring in Government and International Politics with a minor in Criminology, Law, and Society. Passionate about navigating current political landscapes, with particular interest in the Americas and MENA regions.