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More Democrats than Republicans are open to a third-party presidential candidate

The overall share of voters interested in a third-party bid is similar what it was in 2016, when third-party candidates ultimately played a pivotal role in the outcome.
Green Party candidate Dr. Stein Stein holds a "People's Debate" outside Hofstra University on Sept. 26, 2016, in New York, because she was barred from the presidential debate.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein holds a "People's Debate" outside Hofstra University on Long Island on Sept. 26, 2016, because she was barred from the presidential debate.Erik McGregor / LightRocket via Getty Images file

Forty-four percent of registered voters say they are willing to consider supporting a third-party or independent presidential candidate if President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are the two major party nominees in 2024 — and the group includes more Democrats than Republicans, according to new NBC News polling.

A majority of all registered voters, 53%, say they wouldn't consider voting for another candidate in a matchup between Biden and Trump next year.

It's not uncommon in recent election cycles for around 4 in 10 voters to say they're open to a third choice — though by Election Day, the share who ultimately stray from the two parties has been small.

But there have been two straight razor-close presidential elections. A significant share of voters broke for third-party candidates during Trump's win in 2016 compared to when he lost in 2020. And some Democrats are urgently warning about a potential third-party 2024 effort bankrolled by No Labels, the bipartisan political organization.

Republican pollster Bill McInturff — whose firm, Public Opinion Strategies, conducts the NBC News poll along with a Democratic firm, Hart Research Associates — said that left-leaning voters' greater interest in the idea of a third-party candidate underscores why there has been such strong Democratic concern about No Labels this year.

“From the Republican Party’s perspective, this is the low watermark for considering a third party, and it’s a high watermark for Democrats,” he said, before mentioning one possible candidate who has not ruled out a bid under the No Labels banner: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

“I don’t think Manchin would be the typical third-party candidate for a disaffected Democrat, but it still tells you why they are very very jumpy about a third party in this race.”

Among Democrats, 45% say they'd consider backing a third-party or independent presidential candidate, compared to 52% that wouldn't. By comparison, 34% of Republicans would consider backing another candidate while 63% wouldn’t.

Majorities of a handful of Democratic-leaning groups appear more open to another option if Biden and Trump win their nominations.

A majority of Hispanic voters (58%), young voters ages 18 to 34 (57%), Democrats who backed progressive Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic primary (55%) and Black voters (52%) say they're open to considering a third-party or independent presidential candidate in a Biden-Trump rematch.

Even among Republicans who say they primarily support the Republican Party over Trump, 47% would consider a third-party or independent candidate while 50% said they would not.

While a majority of voters are still not open to considering such a bid, historical NBC polling shows public has been more open to a third-party or independent year in the Trump era.

When asked a similar question in January 2008 (with then-Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain as the listed candidates), only 38% said they would consider another option while 56% said they would not.

In April 2012, a matchup between then-President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, then the former governor of Massachusetts and now a U.S. senator from Utah, led to 40% saying they’d consider another candidate and 58% saying they would not.

But in March 2016, faced with the prospect of Trump running against Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, 46% said they’d consider another candidate and 51% said they would not.

No Labels has bristled at the idea that their effort, which is currently spending tens of millions of dollars to get ballot access for a potential independent "unity ticket," will hurt Biden and the Democrats.

The group says it's responding to the clear unease among the American public about the idea of another election featuring Biden and Trump. And No Labels has criticized Democrats who are sounding the alarm about their effort, calling them anti-democratic.

“No Labels is not and will not be a spoiler in favor of Donald Trump in 2024,” Ben Chavis, the Democratic co-chair of No Labels, told NBC News this month, adding that the group would end its effort if polling in the spring shows Biden "way, way out ahead" of Trump.

The NBC News poll was conducted June 16-20, and included 1,000 registered voters — 831 of whom were reached by cellphone — and has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points. 

Among the poll’s 500 Republican primary voters, the margin of error is plus-minus 4.38 percentage points.