Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Third parties on Wisconsin presidential ballot could divert Trump, Biden votes

Despite prospect of ‘wasted’ votes, young people may vote third party to express dissatisfaction, expert says

The Wisconsin Elections Commission approved the inclusion of the Green Party on the Wisconsin 2024 presidential ballot in February, thereby adding another candidate alongside former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, according to WisPolitics.

In late March, the WEC also included a bipartisan group called No Labels, but the party suspended its presidential campaign only weeks later after struggling to find a candidate, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

No Labels’ difficulties finding a suitable candidate could serve as a “reality check” for other third-parties — highlighting the obstacles they encounter in general elections — according to University of Wisconsin–Whitewater political science associate professor Eric Loepp.


“[No Labels] had a hard time getting anybody to step up and actually join the movement on the political side because those moderate Republicans and Democrats that they were talking to knew that the system is not geared toward third parties and didn’t want to be the ‘sacrificial lamb,’” Loepp said.

Third-parties face even more difficulties when it comes to winning elections, University of Wisconsin–Madison political science associate professor Alexander Tahk said.

A third party candidate has yet to win a presidential election, but there are a couple examples of third party candidates winning local or state elections, such as Joe Lieberman, who, for a time, served as an independent senator from Connecticut, Tahk said.

“It’s extremely unlikely that a third party, including No Labels, would actually win an election,” Tahk said. “They could influence the outcome of the election but actually winning it in Wisconsin seems — not impossible — but hard to imagine.”

Instead, a third party is more likely to influence the election by pulling voters away from the two major party candidates, Trump or Biden, Loepp said. Ironically, third party voters often end up hurting the chances of the top candidate they most closely align with, he said.

Individuals who vote for the Green Party — which is politically closer to Democrats — would otherwise be very unlikely to vote for the Republican Party as their backup option, Loepp said. If there is a highly successful Green Party voting pattern this fall, it will end up hurting Biden more than Trump, Loepp said. 

Though a third party could affect the amount of support for either Trump or Biden, it would not be a large effect, according to Tahk. But, there have been some significant general election outcomes in the past that demonstrate the power of third parties. For example, there are debates around whether or not independent candidate Ross Perot pulled votes away from President George Bush in the 1992 presidential election, in which Perot won almost 19% of the popular vote, according to the Federal Election Commission.

In the 2016 presidential election in Wisconsin, Trump won the popular vote over Hillary Clinton by only 1%, so it is conceivable that if not for the other third party candidates — libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein — this narrow margin could have shifted in favor of Clinton, according to the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

Still, whether students are “wasting” their vote on a third party candidate or not depends on the reasons behind people’s voting decisions, Tahk said.

“If you are voting to try to influence the outcome of the election, then obviously it would be foolish to vote for a third party if they don’t have any chance,” Tahk said. “But, people also sometimes vote because they want to send a message about their unhappiness with the choices — even if their candidate isn’t going to win.”

Other voters may have very specific interests they believe the major candidates do not appropriately address, Loepp said. Certain parties like the Women’s Equality Party, Farm-Labor Party or the Green Party, tackle unique issues and could appeal to specific audiences of voters, Loepp said.

Young people especially may want a much younger candidate than Trump or Biden in office, Loepp said. Many young people have a lot of frustration with the current system, causing them to vote for a third party candidate in protest.

“The kind of thing that can motivate some young people is feeling that … neither party is really focused enough on issues like climate change or the national debt issues that really are going to have a bigger impact on younger people over time,” Loepp said.

Only 56% of young people ages 18–24 chose to affiliate with either the Democratic or Republican Party, and it is becoming increasingly common for more Americans to register as independent voters, according to Tufts University.

Younger voters may not have grown up with a long-standing political affiliation they have traditionally voted for over the decades, Loepp said. College students are getting exposure to new ideas everyday, so they may be more open to alternative candidates, Loepp said.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with young Wisconsinites deciding to vote for a third party candidate in the upcoming election this fall as a form of expression, Loepp said.

“Only you can really decide what is the best thing for you to do with your vote,” Loepp said. “It ultimately comes down to — do you want to make a point, or do you want to try to help somebody win?”

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