Spoiler Alert: Third Party Unorthodoxy

Take it from someone who’s lost to a third-party candidate—when people think times are messy, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Matt DeCourcey is a seasoned public policy leader and trusted advisor to decision makers at the local, national, and international level. He is the former Member of Parliament for Fredericton, and now serves as Head of Corporate Affairs for InterKnowlogy.

“If we really want to know who is responsible for the mess we’re in, all we have to do is look in the mirror. You and I own this country, and we are all responsible for what happens to it.” -Ross Perot

Take it from someone who’s lost to a third-party candidate—yours truly; when people think times are messy, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Twenty-one years after Texas billionaire Ross Perot altered the political landscape with his candidacy, it appears that another “brand name” may throw a wrench into next November’s US Presidential Election.

In 1992, Perot took nearly 19% of the popular vote. Much of it came at the expense of Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush, helping Democrat Bill Clinton enter the White House.

Eight years later, in the controversial “hanging chad” election of 2000, candidate Ralph Nader’s 97,000 votes in Florida ultimately swung the state and the Presidency to George W. Bush. Despite losing the national popular vote, Bush bested Al Gore by a mere 537 votes in the pivotal Florida race.

As we edge closer to the 2024 race, another third-party candidate—with a name as familiar as any in US politics—may just upset the electoral orthodoxy of what otherwise looks like a rematch of 2020.

With Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump appearing destined to lead their parties into battle, independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (RFK Jr.) has announced his intentions to play spoiler.

Recent polling shows he just might.

In a hypothetical three-way race, polls show RFK Jr. with upwards of 22% support. That’s more than one in five voters. No small potatoes.

The same polls show that without Kennedy in the race, a Biden v Trump rematch is a near dead heat with each polling at around 47%. Add the “Kennedy” name to the hypothetical ballot and Biden’s numbers fall to 39% and Trump’s to 36%.

It’s clear that Kennedy is eating both of Biden and Trump’s lunch. Though his imposition in the race seems to affect Trump more adversely. Some polls suggest that Trump would lose two votes to Kennedy for every one that would leak from Biden.

Not to overstate the case, but an RFK Jr. candidacy makes this race look A LOT different than that of 2020.

As I wrote last week, due to the structure of the US democratic process and its emphasis on statewide contests, we need to take national numbers with a grain of salt. Kennedy’s influence on the outcome of the election will be most impactful in the key battleground states—more to come on those in a future post—similar to Nader in 2000.

And don’t overlook the potential for other third-party candidates to further add complexity to the electoral calculus. The inclusion of progressive activist Cornel West and potential addition of a bipartisan “No Labels” candidate only adds more intrigue to the outcome.

Yes, at its core this is still a likely contest between the Democrat Biden and Republican Trump.

But just remember that in these times of democratic upheaval, with a majority of Americans saying their country is moving in the wrong direction, third-party candidates railing against convention and orthodoxy can drive significant appeal.

As Americans make their plans to vote next November, they are ultimately responsible for what happens next.

iK Insights Blog

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