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A new poll spotlights a key reason Biden is the 2020 favorite

Rapper Kanye West laughs during a meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office in 2018. (Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)

An effort involving several Republicans is afoot to get rapper Kanye West on the presidential ballot in key states. The idea is apparently that he might siphon some young and African American support from Joe Biden and help President Trump.

But a new poll provides a rare window into the limited appetite for third-party candidates in the 2020 election — and it appears to be a significant reason for Biden’s sustained advantage.

The Monmouth University poll is one of very few thus far this cycle that have included third-party candidates. And there’s a reason for that: The third-party candidates are relatively unknown and are apparently having little impact.

The poll shows Libertarian Party nominee Jo Jorgensen pulling 2 percent nationally, while Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins takes 1 percent. Previous polls from CNBC have also shown them in the low single digits.

That’s a marked contrast to where we were at this point four years ago. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls back then, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson was getting nearly 9 percent of the vote, while Green nominee Jill Stein was pulling about 4 percent.

Part of that was because of familiarity — both candidates were running for the second time in four years — but much of it owed to the unusual disillusionment with the two major-party nominees. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were viewed favorably by only about 4 in 10 voters. That left an apparently gaping hole for third-party candidates.

As is often the case, third-party support dropped as the election went on and voters coalesced around the two candidates who could win. Johnson ultimately pulled just more than 3 percent of the national vote, while Stein got about 1 percent. Despite efforts to suggest that Stein, in particular, spoiled the race for Clinton, there is little evidence of that.

But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have. The margins were so thin in the decisive states that it was utterly conceivable that third-party candidates could have served as spoilers, even if they ultimately didn’t. Johnson’s vote share, for example, was historic by Libertarian Party standards.

And that seems to be the goal of promoting West in 2020 — hoping that even a modest impact could make a difference (though he won’t be on the ballot in crucial Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he may have missed the ballot deadline in Wisconsin by a matter of 14 seconds).

That said, there’s a large difference between 2016 and today: Despite a similar number of voters not liking each candidate, this time they’re breaking strongly for the Democrat, and significantly fewer are threatening to defect to third parties.

The same Monmouth poll shows that about 4 in 10 people have favorable opinions of Trump (40 percent) and Biden (42 percent). That leaves a large chunk of the electorate that doesn’t view either man positively: 22 percent. That’s somewhat similar to 2016, when 17 percent of voters in exit polls reported viewing both Trump and Clinton unfavorably.

(Those numbers are somewhat different, in that the first is not having a positive opinion, while the second is having a firm negative opinion. About 1 in 10 Americans are still undecided about Biden, which wasn’t the case with Clinton in 2016.)

As polls have consistently shown, though — and as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump explains today — unlike in 2016, these voters who don’t like either candidate are breaking strongly for Biden. The “double-haters” favor Biden 55 percent to 17 percent. By contrast, Trump in 2016 won voters who disliked both candidates by particularly large margins in the key states: 21 points in Michigan, 25 points in Pennsylvania and 37 points in Wisconsin. That’s Point No. 1.

Another relevant point, though, is that they aren’t threatening to go with a third party. While 12 to 13 percent of voters at this point in 2016 were saying they’d do that, that’s not the case today. It’s as low as 3 to 5 percent, according to the limited polling we’ve seen.

That might have something to do with the unknowns who are running on the Libertarian and Green Party tickets. For example, when Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), a tea party former Republican who briefly ran for the Libertarian nomination, was polled as that party’s nominee, his support was as high as 5 to 7 percent nationally and 10 percent in Michigan — with the latter poll suggesting he might significantly hurt Biden’s candidacy in Amash’s crucial home state.

That suggests there could hypothetically be a role for a relatively well-known third-party candidate. And some GOP operatives seem to believe that having a big name like West’s on the ballot as an independent could throw a wrench into Biden’s advantage among Black voters and even those who don’t like either candidate.

It’s possible, but we’ll need to see polling in the states where West is going to be on the ballot to figure out whether he might matter. And the limited polling we have suggests that voters who don’t love their major-party options aren’t yet venturing beyond them.

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