Third party challengers

Either a republican or a democrat has claimed the White House since Zachery Taylor won as a Whig in 1848. But this year, perhaps more than in recent election years, some Americans are fed up with both major parties and in particular fed up with the candidates Biden and Trump, and voters might be looking elsewhere.

Though not polling high enough to topple the two leading parties, independent candidate have earned enough votes to swing presidential elections. Businessman Ross Perot from Texas, for example, claimed 19% of the national vote in 1992, likely helping democrat Bill Clinton win the presidency over George Bush Sr.

It is clearly tough to challenge America’s entrenched two-party system. Getting on 50 state ballots, each state with its own rules and regulations, is complicated, time-consuming, and expensive.

Robert F Kennedy’s campaign estimates it will cost around $30 million. In California, for example, an independent candidate must collect about 219,000 signatures over 105 days, starting in April, according to the Ballot Access News. By contrast, in Maine, with a population of just 1.4 million compared to California’s 39 million, an independent candidate needs to get only 4,000 to 5,000 voter signatures to get on the ballot. In Florida, independent candidates need 145,040 signatures to get on the state’s presidential ballot.

This means it is quite a logistical nightmare for any third-party candidate. Third-party candidates are also typically left out of the primary process. Election process rules could be improved to allow more third parties to form and get on ballots, and independents could be allowed to vote in primaries, but this is a long-term hope by many and it will not happen in the 2024 election.

The problem is that it is precisely the parties and people who have succeeded in the current system who would have to make the changes and why would they give up the power and take on unnecessary risk. So far, Kennedy, the most prominent third-party candidate, has qualified for just on state’s ballot: Utah. The Democratic National Committee has sued hos super PAC American Values 2024, which is funding efforts to get him on the ballot in five other states, alleging the funding amounts to an illegal contribution. The democrats have the most to lose and they will do what they can to stop Kennedy from getting on more ballots.

Kennedy is stepping up his strategy to get on battleground ballots as he flirts with the idea of running on the Libertarian Party ticket, raising alarm bells for Democrats who fear he will dent President Biden’s reelection prospects. The Libertarian Party is already on the ballot for all 50 states.

Kennedy’s consideration of another party switch comes as he faces significant scrutiny over whether he will be able to qualify for enough ballots nationwide as an Independent heading into the general election after unsuccessfully primarying Biden.

A Libertarian bid would, in theory, remove many of the hurdles he has faced and make him possibly to be on the ballot in key swing states, something that is seen as a major threat to the incumbent president and his democratic allies. But democrats are still largely dismissive about his push to gain ballot access across the country.

Kennedy running as a Libertarian, however, could change the outcome of the race in unknown ways. The Libertarians have been the most consistent third-party presence in American politics over the past few decades. Kennedy has so far taken small steps to familiarize himself with the Libertarian cause.

This year’s only other declared third-party candidate is activist and Professor Cornel West, with hopes to get on most of the ballots in the 50 states by election day. Even if the candidates make it on most ballots, it is not yet clear whether a third-party candidate could win enough votes to influence this year’s election. Recent polls have show West at 4%. 40% of voters have a favorable view of Kennedy, while 32% have an unfavorable view. In the 2016 election, 8.2 million voters, or 6% of the electorate, chose a third-party candidate, whereas only 2% voted for a third-party candidate in 2020.

Under the current system, third parties can’t win the presidency, they can only play the role of spoiler. And all indications point to this being an extremely close election. So pulling any votes from Biden, even a small amount, is helping Trump. As a result, the democrats will do what they can to stop Kennedy from getting on ballots. The two-party system seems to be here to stay and both parties are keen to keep the status quo in order to stay in power.

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