Third parties could cause voting upheaval in what's shaping up to be a tight presidential race in Pennsylvania

Benjamin Kail, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Political News

What worries supporters of Biden and Trump is that lack of enthusiasm for either man may lead enough voters to look for a third-party candidate.

More than half of Pennsylvania voters disapprove of Biden's job performance, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll. In a recent New York Times/Siena College survey, almost half described Trump as dangerous. And almost 20% of voters nationwide are so-called "double haters," unhappy with both presidential candidates, according to several polls.

An average of recent Pennsylvania polls tracked by Real Clear Politics shows Trump leading Biden by just 0.2%. A late-January poll by Franklin & Marshall College showed the candidates in a virtual dead heat in the state, with Biden getting a boost from respondents who said they saw the economy improving.

In a five-way race, Trump saw his edge over Biden increase by as much as 3 percentage points in every swing state except Michigan, where the president fared better, according to Real Clear Politics averages. In Pennsylvania, Trump received a nearly 2 percentage-point bump when including the other candidates.

But Balaban cautioned that polls that include third-party candidates "this far out" before Election Day are "likelier than not to be inflated."

"It is pretty standard for third-party candidates to poll higher than they ultimately receive in terms of votes," he said. "Because it's a free signal of unhappiness without actually having to pull a lever."


Christopher Borick, a pollster and political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said it's common for voters to change their minds and begrudgingly choose "one of the so-called lesser of two evils among the major-party candidates" after they learn more about the third-party contenders.

Kennedy is aligned with progressives on a number of issues, including curtailing fossil fuels, raising the federal minimum wage to $15, targeting union-busting corporations, cutting student debt and reducing military spending. But he has criticized U.S. military support for Ukraine after it was attacked by Russia, he has backtracked from previous statements supporting federal restrictions on abortion, and his anti-vaccine advocacy has drawn rebukes from other prominent members of the Kennedy family, including his siblings.

"His policy positions certainly transcend the traditional Republican-Democrat offerings," Borick said. "There are some really different combinations there that don't align neatly with either party."

His potential to make a mark on the 2024 race largely is based on name recognition, with "much lore and fascination and interest in all things Kennedy," Borick said.


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