The purported rule in American elections is that third parties “spoil” presidential elections–that they invariably work to benefit the less popular of two leading candidates. Had Ralph Nader not run in 2000, for example, Al Gore might well have prevailed. Had Ross Perot not run in 1992, George H.W. Bush might have been reelected. But upon closer inspection, this seemingly immutable law of politics isn’t universally applicable. In some circumstances, a non-major party candidate can actually win the contest. And a year’s worth of polling and modeling show that the 2024 campaign could break new ground. So it’s worth understanding why, this time, things may well be different.
The truth is that disruption has been a long time coming. For the last quarter-century, a range of factors have eroded the norms that once compelled candidates to seek the support of mainstream America. The Democratic and Republican parties were once coalitions of diverse interests, forcing nominees from both to appeal to the middle. But as is now clear, ideologically extreme candidates can win their party’s nomination by courting only the narrowest of narrow bases. If, next year, both parties nominate candidates who are either too extreme or unappealing to most Americans, an insurgent independent would act less as a spoiler than the only way to point the country out of the catastrophe of endless partisan wrangling. Perhaps more important, the data proves they would stand a good chance of prevailing.
This new revelation comes from work done by an organization out of Washington I help to lead here in Colorado. No Labels, founded more than a decade ago to counteract the rising vitriol making bipartisanship impossible in Washington, has fought successfully on a number of fronts. They founded the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and then connected them with allied senators. We have helped to support members doing the brave things necessary to pass bipartisan bills like the 2021 infrastructure law. And now, among our other efforts, we’re looking to pressure presidential candidates to listen to the nation’s exhausted majority.
According to a recent poll No Labels sponsored, only 29% of Coloradans think the country is on the right track. Barely more than a third want either President Biden or former President Donald Trump to run again. Moreover, a full 62% of Coloradans would consider a “moderate, independent” candidate if such a candidate were on the November ballot. Preparing for the possibility that both parties will nominate candidates who are unacceptable to the broad majority of American voters, No Labels has recently established a ballot line in Colorado and several other important bellwether states that would provide an independent ticket–one Democrat and one Republican—an avenue to compete and win the presidency.
Our organization would not take the decision to run an independent ticket lightly. If we believe a ticket running on our ballot line can’t realistically win outright in the Electoral College–or if they’d likely “spoil” the election by disproportionately pulling more votes from one of the major party nominees—we’ll stand down. Instead, we will double down on the great and important work we are doing to strengthen a bipartisan governing coalition in Congress.
But, if we do reach a “break the glass” moment, where the American people urgently want an alternative, No Labels will be ready with a kind of mainstream escape hatch that has ballot access in all 50 states. That’s why, internally, No Labels often refers to this initiative as its “insurance policy.” It’s to be used only in the case of an emergency. But, if we do have to break the glass, we will intend to win: Our polling and modeling show such a ticket could win a plurality of the votes in enough states to exceed the magic number of 270 votes in the Electoral College.
One final point: Even if No Labels chooses not to run an independent ticket, the fact that we could will nevertheless provide some new incentives to the two major parties. They’re now both on notice that if they decide to nominate unacceptable candidates who do not appeal to the mainstream, they’re liable to face new competition. And that, in the absence of internal pressure to look beyond their bases, should be sobering.
In the end, No Labels’ goal isn’t to spoil anything–it’s to stop an already spoiled political system from getting worse and to get Washington solving problems again. And most Coloradans will likely agree: Unless we make some more drastic changes to the system as it exists today, we’re liable to keep getting the same disappointing results.
Roger Hutson is a co-chair of No Labels Colorado, a board member of Colorado Concern and the CEO of HRM Resources III, LLC
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