February 6, 2024 - 7:00pm

Third-party candidates could push Donald Trump over the edge to victory in November’s presidential election, much as they did in 2016, according to recent polls.

Trump is leading in swing states, and his lead grows considerably when third-party candidates Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jill Stein and Cornel West are added to the mix. Trump performs better in a five-way race than in a two-way contest in five crucial swing states: Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina, though the addition of third party candidates brings his lead down by four points in Pennsylvania and makes no difference in Georgia, according to RCP’s poll of polls.

The largest impacts can be seen in Arizona and Nevada, where the three third-party candidates boost Trump’s lead by five and four points respectively, and in Wisconsin and North Carolina, where Trump sees a three-point boost. 

Any impact of third-party candidates in heavily blue or red states would not bridge the massive margins that Joe Biden or Trump are projected to win in those states — only influence in swing states meaningfully impacts the election. 

Biden is six points ahead of Trump in a two-way national race, but the addition of RFK Jr., Stein and West reduces his lead to just two points in a separate Quinnipiac poll. Kennedy takes the lion’s share of third-party votes, 21%, compared to West and Stein’s 3% and 2%. 

December polling indicates that a three-way race involving RFK boosts Trump by five points, and it can safely be assumed that Stein and West primarily win votes from would-be Biden supporters. 

Both Stein and West threaten to peel off would-be Biden voters who are dissatisfied with the President’s handling of the war in Gaza and climate issues. West has been sharply critical of Israel and said Biden was complicit in genocide for supporting the state. He has been courting swing-state Arab and Muslim voters, and may find some converts among the three-quarters of young voters who are dissatisfied with Biden’s stance on the conflict in the Middle East. 

Michigan, which has over 200,000 citizens of Arab descent, could prove to be a decisive swing vote bloc. Given that he only won the state by just over 150,000 votes in 2020, the President will be hoping that the likes of West do not take votes from this demographic. Heavily contested cities like Ann Arbor, Dearborn (both Michigan) and Madison (Wisconsin), could come down to just tens of thousands of votes.

Meanwhile, more than 15,000 people in Arizona — another swing state — have registered to join the No Labels “unity ticket” against Biden and Trump. The group has already secured ballot access in Arizona and 10 other states, with its organisers claiming that they will reach 20 states by the end of this year and all 50 states by election day.

Kennedy has broken with the mainstream of both parties on public health, environmental issues and vaccines, and could pull votes away from both main candidates, though ultimately his inclusion on the ballot is projected to help Trump more. 

Democrats, for their part, have been waging a war against third-party candidates. No Labels filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging a conspiracy to shut down their effort to put a third-party candidate on the ballot. The group’s detractors have publicly accused them of helping Trump, and several articles have cropped up in the media arguing that a vote for Cornel West is a vote for Trump. 

Democrats have good reason to be concerned about a potential third-party spoiler. In 2016, Green Party candidate Jill Stein won more votes than Trump’s margin of victory in three swing states; if Stein’s supporters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin had instead voted for Hillary Clinton, Clinton would have won the election. 

This memory has put the Democrats under added pressure to maintain unity ahead of this year’s election. But once again, it appears as though its shaky coalition of voters is already beginning to disintegrate on both the Left and in the centre.

is UnHerd’s US correspondent.