I’ve been obsessing about next year’s US elections for a long while, but actually visiting a country always changes one’s view. After talking to lots of clever people there, I came away feeling I’d overlooked the biggest risk to American democracy: that one or more third parties could win enough votes to throw the election to Donald Trump. This plausible scenario is barely discussed these days outside wonkish circles.
Hard as it is to take one’s eyes off Trump, often it’s the ignored minor character who tips the scales of history. Both Trump and Biden are fully known quantities, whose support levels will hardly budge, no matter how Trump’s trials pan out. The two men supposedly represent the “two Americas” but, in fact, many Americans identify with neither. Head-to-head polls are therefore misleading. What matters is what happens once you throw in third parties. When a recent Economist/YouGov poll asked Americans whether they could ever vote for a third party or independent candidate, 44 per cent said yes. Most polls suggest third parties would hurt Biden.