US Election: Trump needs a strong third-party challenge but will he get one?

Billionaire investor Mark Cuban
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Head-to-head polls between the principal candidates continue to favour Joe Biden but could third-party surges alter the dynamics? Paul Krishnamurty examines their potential...

"A billionaire sports investor like Mark Cuban would have crossover appeal...There is some betting interest too - he’s come down to 250.0"

Polling signals for November's election remain remarkably consistent, in line with trends during the Trump era. They do not make good reading for the incumbent.

US opinion remains deeply entrenched

Such trends fit the broad analysis that I've pushed pretty much ever since Trump entered politics. That he is the ultimate 'Marmite' character, about whom very few change their minds and are unlikely to ever do so. A candidate who prefers to double down to appease his base, rather than pivot to the centre. Who would rather go to war with his critics than reach out to them. A poor gameplan when your approval ratings are entrenched negative.

Whilst that position has served me well with regards special and mid-term elections, I am frequently asked: "But you got it wrong in 2016. Why will 2020 be any different?"

Third party candidates surged in 2016

To answer to that relevant and legitimate question, we need to reconsider the 2016 numbers with particular focus on third party challengers. Trump and Hillary Clinton were the two least popular candidates in presidential election history. Consequently, the combined share of the Republican and Democrat candidates fell by four percentage points from 98.3 in 2012, to 94.3%.

Both Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green) saw their vote share treble on 2012, while Evan Mcmullin (Independent Republican) took 0.5%. Almost certainly, their surge took net votes away from Clinton. Particularly Stein - whose leftist agenda hoovered up disgruntled supporters of Bernie Sanders.

Trump only won the electoral college - he lost the popular vote by 2.9M - by a freakish 70K votes spread across three states, where the Democrat vote was either split or suppressed. All were targeted by the Kremlin fake news campaign exposed by Robert Mueller's investigation and confirmed by no less than the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee to have been executed in order to help Trump.

Trump needs more votes but share is down

There are no polling signals to suggest Trump will improve on his 46.1% vote share. In an extensive recent interview for The Political Trade podcast, former Bill Clinton advisor James Carville booked Trump's share in November at 44.5%. If so, his only hope of retaining the presidency is for other candidates to take votes away from Joe Biden.

There certainly will be extra candidates. For one, Justin Amash - an ex-Republican from Michigan, running for the Libertarian candidacy. Amash was one of the earliest voices to call for Trump's impeachment and has frequently railed against the administration's racking up of debt.

Nobody gives Amash a prayer of winning a state but his principled critique of Trump and Conservatism is entitled to attract some votes.

Cuban attracting market support

A more interesting name is Mark Cuban - the Dallas Mavericks owner and star of TV show 'Shark Tank'. Cuban was a vocal critic of Trump as a businessman before entering office and has long flirted with the idea of a presidential run.

When doing so, it was assumed he would seek the Republican nomination but that is obviously out of the question this year, so it would have to be as an independent. Cuban remains undecided, but he is throwing in newsworthy comments. There is some betting interest too - he's come down to [250.0].

It isn't clear who would benefit from them running as both Amash and Cuban are conservatives. It might aid Democrats to have them attacking Trump, exposing his failures and corruption, and reinforcing their core narrative.

My instinct, nevertheless, says Amash would help Trump, whose supporters rarely if ever budge. The Biden/Democrat share definitely includes disaffected former Republicans who share positions with Amash.

A billionaire sports investor like Cuban would have crossover appeal. His pitch as a businessman rather than politician is the one that powered Trump to victory so there could be a few votes to be won on that side. However I think he would mostly appeal to independents, whom are breaking strongly for Biden right now, and the younger voters any Democrat needs.

Greens present a threat to Biden

There will certainly be a challenge from the Left, via the Greens - probably Howie Hawkins, who also represents the Socialist Party. They are bound to attract some Sanders' supporters.

So, could this trio or yet-to-be named alternatives do to Biden what Stein et al did to Clinton? Cuban has potential but, more generally, I'm sceptical. The dynamics are different. Sure, there are doubts about Biden. He doesn't excite important parts of the Democrat base. However he is nowhere near as toxic as Clinton whom, lest we forget, spent the entire 2016 cycle under FBI investigation.

Plus very few voters or even commentators were aware of the Kremlin's interference tactics in 2016. To some extent everyone is wising up. Attempts to manipulate the mid-terms by the same social media machine failed. Anti-Trump voices will relentlessly expose any splitting or supression tactics and Democrats surely won't take mid-west marginals like Wisconsin for granted again.

Check out the above segment from MSNBC, explaining how 'double-negatives' - voters with a negative opinion of both candidates break down. Whereas Trump won by a 16% margin among them in 2016, he is 50% behind Biden right now.

The biggest thing many of us missed in 2016 was how defections from third parties and late deciders would break so strongly for Trump. The third-party share collapsed in the final days - it had reached double-digit totals. I'm not convinced any of these candidates or parties will have anything like that success in this different 'Trump or not' environment.


Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

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2020 US Presidential Election: USA - Presidential Election 2020 (Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate)

Monday 17 August, 5.00pm

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