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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Inui

No Labels: The Unlikely Fate of Third-Party Candidates in U.S. Politics


A sign says "VOTE HIM OUT" in all capital, black lettering. It hangs on the side of brick building.

Both primary parties’ presidential primary front-runners face soaring disapproval ratings, opening the way for possible third-party candidates (Jon Tyson, Unsplash)


As U.S. voters prepare for the 2024 presidential elections, Republican and Democratic candidates are beginning to declare their candidacies. Among them, President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump have emerged as the front runners in their parties, respectively. However, No Labels, a rising organization with a message of political moderation, has floated the idea of running a third-party ticket, conceivably disrupting the country’s centuries-old two-party system.


Why is the United States Stuck in a Two-Party System?


Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. two-party system is not rooted in the Constitution; political parties are never even referenced in the text. However, it was the Constitution that instigated the creation of the first two major parties: the Federalists (in support of the Constitution’s ratification) and the Anti-Federalists (against its ratification). Since then, the two dominant parties have changed names and ideologies, but there have always been two.


Why? Duverger’s law, named after French political scientist Maurice Duverger, provides the most likely explanation. The theory explains that in countries like the U.S., the single candidate with the most votes wins the entire election. As a result, smaller factions are incentivized to work together to form a base with a plurality of votes. In the U.S., only the Democratic and Republican Parties have the influence to win a plurality of votes, so voters are encouraged to vote for one of these two party’s candidates (a vote for a third-party candidate is akin to throwing that vote away).


However, as the country becomes more polarized and extreme, voters are growing increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo. According to a recent poll, nearly four in ten (39 percent) of Americans said that the statement “I wish there were more political parties to choose from in this country” described their views extremely (21 percent) or very well (17 percent). Another study showed that 43 percent of Americans feel that no presidential candidates represent their views well. From that backdrop of discontent, No Labels was founded.


Who is No Labels?


No Labels first entered the political scene in 2010 as a small organization advertising itself as a voice for moderation and the end of polarized partisanship. It started with luncheon events and seminars, its most notable achievement helping organize the Congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan caucus standing for bipartisan cooperation. It had a slight liberal bent and would occasionally campaign for moderate Democrat candidates, but as a whole, it primarily promoted centrist policies. As a result, many viewed No Labels as a “good government” group and nothing more.


However, as the organization grew, so did its aspirations. No Label’s first national appearance came at their town hall, held in mid-July of 2023. Hosted by moderated Democratic senator Joe Manchin and former Republican Utah governor Jon Huntsman, the event served as the launching point for the organization’s “Common Sense” policy platform heading into the 2024 presidential election.


The Plan for 2024


While many details have not yet been finalized, No Labels announced their intention to create a “Unity Ticket” (in other words, a third-party ticket) if most Americans do not want to vote for the primary parties’ candidates. Currently, polling is in the organization’s favor. A recent NBC News poll found that 60 percent of voters do not want Trump to run, and 70 percent of Americans do not want Biden to run.


However, there is much worry about the impact a third-party ticket could have on the general election. Primarily, many fear that it could act as a spoiler for the Democratic Party. Several polls have shown that a No Labels ticket would siphon more votes from Biden than from Trump. This could make a significant difference, especially in states like Wisconsin and Georgia, where Biden only won by a fraction of a percentage point in 2020.


In response to the widespread backlash, No Labels founder and CEO Nancy Jacobson vowed to end the ticket if it risked tilting the election in either party’s favor. “As a Democrat? Categorically, that will not happen,” Jacobson responded when pressed on concerns that No Labels could harm Biden’s candidacy. “We will not spoil for either side,” Jacobson added. “The only reason to do this is to win.” Still, many experts remain skeptical. For one, Jacobson declined to offer any metrics for how the organization would determine whether their ticket would tilt the election in either party’s favor.


No Labels announced a deadline of Super Tuesday (an early March date when several states hold their primaries) to declare whether or not it will run a third-party candidate.


Shrouded in Secrecy


In spite of No Label’s quick rise to fame, much of the organization has remained very secretive. For example, the organization’s fundraising has recently come under intense scrutiny. The group is not obligated to reveal its donors, but a Mother Jones investigation recently identified several wealthy contributors. While there were several Democratic donors, most of the contributors seemed to be conservative-leaning.


Jacobson has insisted that there is “nothing nefarious” about their fundraising, but many are unsure. The Arizona Democratic Party recently filed a complaint with the Arizona Secretary of State, arguing that No Labels should be suspended as a political party for failing to follow the same financial disclosure rules as the Republican and Democratic parties.


Beyond its donors, the organization has also been involved in a controversy surrounding former political commentator Mark Halperin. Despite several allegations of sexual assault, No Labels moved forward with hiring him. He then became their highest-paid staffer in 2021, making $257,000 as the organization’s chief strategist. He later left the organization in March 2023.


The Future of the Third-Party Candidate


For now, the future for No Labels seems promising. They have already gained ballot access in ten states. Further, while much of the organization’s financial information has not been publicized, the last publicly available tax forms from 2021 show the organization had already raised $11.3 million of its $70 million goal.


However, there is little precedent for third-party victories in U.S. politics. In the past 100 years, only three third-party candidates have won even a single state in the Electoral College. No third-party candidate has ever won a presidential election in U.S. history. Although, with unprecedented levels of dissatisfaction with the two-party system and low approval rates for both primary party candidates, the 2024 circumstances are undoubtedly unique. Only the voters can decide the fate of No Labels’ third-party ticket.


 



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