There were many reasons why Democrat Joe Biden was able to defeat Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election while Democrat Hillary Clinton was unsuccessful in her bid to do so in 2016.
Yet, there’s one reason that election pundits believe is going to loom large for the upcoming election in 2024 – how large of a share the vote for a third-party candidate ends up being.
Back in 2016, write-in and third-party presidential candidates garnered 6% of all the votes cast. Libertarian Gary Johnson received more than 3% of the vote across the country, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein received more than 1%.
Four years later, the total votes for write-ins and third-party candidates fell all the way to 2%.
As NBC News reported, the 4% difference there increased the threshold that the major party candidates had to reach in order to secure the battleground states. It was 47% and 48% for Clinton’s run in 2016 compared to 49% and 50% for Biden’s run four years later in 2020.
The change in threshold, according to many Democrats, gave Trump an advantage in 2016 that he didn’t enjoy in 2020. That’s why many liberal groups are already very keyed in on that third-party vote, as the expectation is that the 2024 presidential election will be a rematch between Trump and Biden.
Many Democratic groups are working to keep the third-party group as low as possible, and part of that strategy includes working with the No Labels third-party group from putting any alternate candidates on the ballots in the key battleground states.
NBC News’ analysis outlined that the vote share that Trump enjoyed in the key counties, the key battleground states and nationally was about the same in 2020 as it was in 2016. The big difference is that Biden was able to grow the vote share for Democrats between two and three points in all major categories, while votes for alternate candidates dropped from 2016 to 2020.
Pennsylvania is a prime example of it. In 2016, Trump won the state over Clinton by a count of 48.2% to 47.5%. In 2020, though, the vote for third-party candidates declined, allowing Biden to carry the Keystone State by a total of 49.9% to 48.7%.
The same type of situation held true in Wisconsin. Trump won the state in 2016, with a vote total of 47.2% to 46.5% for Clinton. In 2020, Biden flipped the script, winning 49.5% of the vote compared to Trump’s 48.8%. The wins in those states were huge for both candidates’ ultimate victories.
What’s more, an NBC News Exit Poll conducted in 2020 found that 5% of voters across the country said that they cast a ballot for a third-party candidate during the 2016 presidential election. In 2020, those voters decided to break that pattern and vote for Biden over Trump by a ratio of more than two-to-one.
During an election where Biden won the states of Georgia and Arizona by only roughly 10,000 total votes and Wisconsin by about 20,000, those things make a major difference.