Many voters don’t want Biden or Trump but that doesn’t mean they want No Labels’ ‘unity ticket’
Most Americans tell pollsters they dread a Trump-Biden rematch this year, but third-party presidential tickets historically flop at the ballot box.
The centrist political group No Labels, which is flirting with launching a “unity ticket” featuring a Republican and Democrat to challenge the parties’ nominees, insists this time could be different.
“The appetite for it is so overbuilt, you can lose a lot of people and still have a winning plurality in a lot of states,” No Labels chief strategy Ryan Clancy said in a recent conference call with reporters. “There is a credible path, if there’s a good enough candidate.”
With roughly 10 months until Election Day, No Labels still can’t name its candidates and has won access to the ballot in just a dozen states. If it names a ticket — a decision that No Labels plans to make shortly after Super Tuesday in March — the group won’t even campaign for its candidates.
“It’s a legal decision. No Labels is a 501(c)(4) with a purpose to get on the ballot. Campaigns and advocating for candidates require different levels of formation and disclosure,” No Labels director of ballot integrity Jay Nixon, a former Democratic governor of Missouri, said on the call.
Put more plainly: No Labels is building the “launchpad.”
“If there’s a ticket, they’re [the ones] to build the rocket to go to the White House,” Mr. Clancy said.
No Labels’ internal modeling shows a 34% plurality of voters would back a unity ticket, compared to just over 33% backing Mr. Biden and 33% siding with Mr. Trump.
No Labels isn’t wrong that most Americans want to cast their ballot for someone else — at least in theory.
A recent NPR-Marist poll found 65% of voters don’t want Mr. Biden to serve a second term while 60% said the same about Mr. Trump.
A Harvard-Harris survey found 68% of Democrats, 57% of Republicans and 78% of independents preferred “another choice.” A majority — 53% — of combined voters said they would consider an independent moderate candidate.
But history shows that an actual third-party candidate on the ballot does little more than act as a spoiler.
A third-party presidential candidate has not won any Electoral College votes since American Independent Party candidate George Wallace in 1968, the year Richard Nixon won his first term.
Others are remembered simply as spoilers: independent Ross Perot costing Geroge H.W. Bush’s reelection in 1992 against Bill Clinton; Green Party candidate Ralph Nader helping George W. Bush defeat Al Gore in 2000; and Green Party candidate Jill Stein aiding Donald Trump’s 2016 surprise win over Hillary Clinton.
A third-party candidate has never been elected to the White House since Republicans and Democrats became the two main parties in the mid-1800s.
No matter who No Labels’ candidates would be, they would lack widespread name recognition. No Labels conceded that’s a major hurdle and why the group has yet to conduct polling with specific names.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, former Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan and former Utah GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman have been floated for a potential unity ticket.
“Even a well-known governor or a senator, maybe half the country knows who they are. Oftentimes, it’s a lot less,” Mr. Clancy said. “Unless you’re talking about Taylor Swift or The Rock, they’re the only other people in the country with the name I.D. of Biden and Trump.”
Professor Bernard Tamas, an expert in third parties at Valdosta State University, called No Labels’ confidence in their long odds “wildly overstated.” He said Americans are too entrenched in “negative partisanship,” a hatred for the opposing party that buoys lukewarm support for their party’s candidate.
Just 3% to 5% of the country is a swing voter willing to vote for someone other than a Republican or Democrat, he said.
“The only realistic possibility for No Labels is to be a spoiler,” he said. “Americans absolutely support the idea of third-party candidates, but it takes a lot more for them to actually go and vote in a large number.”
Mr. Clancy said No Labels is “very mindful” of the limitations this close to the election and vowed not to be a spoiler. But he said No Labels could cause neither major party to reach the required 270 Electoral College votes, resulting in either Congress choosing a president or the formation of a “coalition government” by candidates trading unbound electors.
“This is not No Labels’ plan. This is not No Labels’ strategy,” Mr. Clancy said. “It’s just to say that … this is a potential outcome at the Electoral College.”
Democrats fear a unity ticket could cost the election for Mr. Biden.
Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic strategist, called No Labels’ mindset “idiotic.”
“They’re delusional,” he said. “What are they talking about?”
Mr. Sheinkopf advised the Biden campaign to remain silent about No Labels: “Ignore it. Don’t give it any steam.”