Commentary: Third-party candidates can tip the balance in a tight US election

Duverger’s law, named after the 20th century French social scientist Maurice Duverger, makes a simple prediction: Election systems such as in the US, with single-member districts and winner-take-all voting, invariably trend toward two parties.

That means if 2024 is a rematch between Biden and Trump, there’s almost zero chance of a third-party candidate snatching victory. Yet none of this changes a simple fact: A third-party candidate doesn’t have to win to play a starring role in who’s given the keys to the Oval Office.


Could a third-party candidate really tip the balance in 2024? In short, absolutely.

In 2016, some 80,000 votes breaking differently across three states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – would have ensured a Hillary Clinton victory. Today, polls in a hypothetical Biden versus Trump match look like a statistical dead heat, giving even more of an opening for a third-party candidate to be a gamechanger.

A survey in early 2024 by left-wing think tank Data For Progress, for example, found that a “moderate, independent candidate” would draw 13 per cent of the vote and grant Trump a slight edge in the popular vote over Biden.

To the extent that this tracks outcomes in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and elsewhere, even a candidate who could earn a much lower percentage could tip the balance in a razor-tight election.

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