Is the US ready for a third-party presidential candidate?

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen Republican candidates drop out of the race for the White House — while other candidates are jumping in. 

From Cornel West and Jill Stein to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and a possible No Labels “unity ticket.” There is growing attention on third-party candidates running for president, and experts say that comes from growing frustration over the major party options.

“There is a wide swath of independent and young voters, including many voters of color, who want to be extricated from this geriatric showdown that the country is hurtling towards between Trump and Biden,” said David Wasserman, a senior editor and election analyst at The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

Past campaign cycles have shown that as election day gets closer, support for alternate candidates usually wanes, in part because the electoral college system just isn’t equipped to give independent candidates a realistic shot.

“We have so many lopsidedly red states and so many lopsided blue states, it’s really difficult for any third-party candidate to poll with anything close to a majority of electoral college votes across a very tilted battleground. If this were a popular vote scenario, it might be a different calculation, but that’s not the system we have,” said Wasserman.

A third-party candidate has never come close to winning the White House, but their appearance on the ballot can impact who does win — especially in elections with slim margins.

“This election might be most analogous to 2016, in the sense that voters are broadly dissatisfied with the major-party choices in front of them. Jill Stein’s vote tally in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin exceeded Trump’s margin over Hillary Clinton in that election,” said Wasserman.

With the election just under a year away, the Cook Political Report rates just four states as toss-ups – Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. All four of those states were key battlegrounds in 2020, where it was only a slim margin that gave the win to President Biden.