Do you dread the prospect of a Joe Biden-Donald Trump rematch in 2024? If you do, you have plenty of company. In a CBS News poll conducted earlier this month, 64% of voters responded that a Biden-Trump rematch would make them feel as though the political system is broken. Only 23% responded that a Biden-Trump rematch would make them feel as though the political system is working.
The bi-partisan group No Labels has stated that it intends to nominate a third-party candidate to run against Biden and Trump if they become the nominees of their respective parties. Given that both candidates currently hold overwhelming leads in their respective polls, a Biden-Trump matchup seems to be all but assured.
According to No Labels senior advisor Ryan Clancy, “The whole idea of this is that [a third-party presidential option] has to be a demand-driven phenomenon. We want a ticket like this to be selected because there is an overwhelming desire for something different”.
On the surface, it appears Mr. Clancy could be right about American voters wanting something different. According to a survey published in September by the Pew Research Center, only about one-third of Americans (35%) say they are satisfied with the two candidates whose nominations at the moment seem all but assured. Nearly eight in ten Americans (78%) say recent campaigns have not featured party nominees who were good candidates. Six in ten Americans (61%) say they have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party, and a nearly identical share (60%) rate the Democratic Party unfavorably. And 28% of Americans hold unfavorable views of both political parties, up from just 6% in the mid-1990s. Younger adults hold even more unfavorable views of both parties.
According to Ballotpedia, President Biden’s approval rating remains in the low 40s, nearly the same as Donald Trump’s approval rating at the same point in his presidency. Congressional job approval currently hovers around or below 20%, depending on the poll, where it has been for the past 15 years.
According to the same Pew Research survey, 68% of Americans said they are somewhat or very/extremely open to having more political parties. Only 30% of Americans said they are not open to having more political parties.
Clearly, the data seems to suggest that the political climate is finally right for a viable third-party presidential candidacy. In fact, when I began writing this piece, I did so fully intending to advocate for a strong and viable moderate third-party candidate for President in 2024, as I have done in the past. Then, I did more research.
Despite American’s dissatisfaction with our current two-party system, we remain highly partisan. Most Americans say their party – but not the other – respects democratic institutions, governs honestly, and respects different types of people. 79% of Republicans and Republican-leaners and 82% of Democrats say that their party alone respects the country’s democratic institutions and traditions.
In a Pew Research survey conducted shortly before the 2020 general election, approximately 80% of voters polled responded that they intended to vote a straight Republican or Democratic ticket. Only 10% of voters said they planned to split their ticket. Seven states allow straight-ticket voting with the click of one button.
Every seat in Congress is held by either a Republican or a Democrat. Not one House seat is held by a member of another political party or an independent. (Three declared Independents are in the Senate – Kirsten Sinema, Bernie Sanders, and Angus King.)
One might think that politics at the state and local level are less partisan and that voters may be more open to third-party and independent candidates. The statistics are shocking. According to Ballotpedia, as of September 7, of a cumulative 7,386 state legislative seats (state senates and state houses), 7,324 seats are currently held by Democrats or Republicans. Only 27 seats are held by members of other parties or independents. Clearly, there are no organized grassroots efforts to launch alternative political parties.
The reality is we live in socio-political silos. That four out of five voters planned to vote a straight Republican or Democratic ticket in the last general election is rather convincing proof.
The most popular news outlets make sure we do not wander from our silos or to even hear about what folks in the other silo are saying, at least not without opining on it in the most partisan ways. Many of our politicians in Washington are implicit in this. Fox News and its political enablers frequently rage about “Democratic-run” cities that are filthy, lawless cesspools where needles and syringes litter the streets and how the Left wants to take away your guns and defund the police.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton famously called half of Donald Trump’s supporters a “basket of deplorables”. It is a view shared by some Democratic elites who can’t imagine how “those people” can even consider voting for a populist candidate, especially one as corrupt and distasteful as Donald Trump. They cannot identify with and consequently have little or no empathy for, the misery of a declining middle class that has seen nearly 35% of all manufacturing jobs in the U.S. disappear over the past 40 years. Many lost their livelihoods and homes. And, until recently, our politicians in Washington did little or nothing to incentivize reinvestment in their communities.
Consequently, it is highly unlikely that an articulate, intelligent, and moderate third-party presidential candidate who is perhaps 20 to 30 years younger than the two currently leading candidates could emerge as a viable contender who can win a presidential election. It is more likely that a serious, well-funded third-party candidacy would assure that whoever wins the 2024 presidential election will have been elected by much less than a majority of American voters, exacerbating the vitriol in our national discourse and hyper-partisan division in our country.
Rich Zacaroli has served for over 30 years on numerous boards of non-governmental organizations in the education, cultural exchange, community development, and banking sectors. He is chair of the board of directors of Greenheart International. He is a member of Rotary International, a Paul Harris Fellow, past-president of Rotary Club of South Sacramento, and Chair of the Global Grant Scholarship Committee for Rotary District 5180. He has held executive-level positions in the Aerospace Industry, and still consults in the field of space and airborne remote sensing.