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Third-Party Impact Could Be Decisive in 2024 Election

By Adeline Von Drehle
Published On: Last updated 04/22/2024, 02:34 PM EDT

Third-party and independent candidates may turn out to be the story of the 2024 presidential election, as new national and battleground state polling shows how they will impact the race. 

Recent surveys from Emerson College reveal that when independent candidates are included in a ballot test, former President Donald Trump has 44% support compared to President Joe Biden’s 40% support. Eight percent of voters supported independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and 1% supported fellow independent Cornel West. Green Party candidate Jill Stein received a statistically insignificant amount of support, and 8% of voters were undecided.

Trump’s four-percentage-point edge in a five-way race is a marked improvement over the .04% lead he holds over Biden in the RCP Average. It seems independent candidates take more support from Biden than they do Trump. This could be due to the generally left-leaning politics of Kennedy, West and Stein. 

Slightly different results occur in swing states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, polling shows. According to a recent MRG poll, Michigan voters would choose Trump (42%) over Biden (36%) come November. However, Trump’s six-point lead narrows to three when potential third-party and independent candidates are added.

Over a quarter of Michigan voters (27%) said that if the election were held today, they would vote for someone other than Trump or Biden, or they remain undecided.

"Right now, this election is a race between Biden, Trump, and the couch. Both presidential candidates will have to pound the pavement in the coming months to motivate their base and win the support of Michigan voters," said Jenell Leonard, owner of Marketing Resource Group. "While many have decided who they'll be voting for on the presidential ticket in November, the number of folks not choosing a major party candidate proves this election could end up in a wild-card race." 

In Wisconsin, a recent Marquette poll shows a very tight race between Trump and Biden: The president (49%) trails by two points to his predecessor (51%). Both Trump and Biden receive a significantly smaller portion of the vote when third-party candidates are added into the mix – Trump (41%) and Biden (40%) – though Trump still retains his slight advantage. Third-party and independent candidates tend to get their support from voters who identify as neither Democrat nor Republican.

"It's not just taking away from their parties, but taking away from independents that might otherwise choose Biden or Trump if there was no one else to pick," Marquette University Law School poll director Charles Franklin said.

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