Four weeks before Election Day, third-party presidential candidates continue to lag in the polls compared to the spike year of 2016, when 5.7 percent of the electorate went nontraditional for POTUS. In the RealClearPolitics average of the last five national polls, Libertarian Jo Jorgensen sits at just 2 percent, while the Green Party's Howie Hawkins is at a temporarily high 1.4 percent that will revert closer to 1 once the next poll rolls over. (Also, if Hawkins, in the face of near-fanatical Democratic voter motivation this year, tops 2016 nominee Jill Stein's 1.1 percent, I will eat a Dodgers hat on live television.)
Still, there remains potential yet for Libertarians and even Greens to be labeled "spoilers" depending on how this high-intensity election plays out. Jorgensen is polling higher than the gap between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden in four key states, each of which Trump won in 2016: Ohio and North Carolina, where Biden currently leads, and Iowa and Georgia, where the incumbent retains a tiny advantage.
Here are those state races, ranked by the percentage-point distance between the third-party candidate and the margin between the top two.
1) Ohio, +2.3
Polling percentages: Biden 45.5, Trump 44.5, Jorgensen 3.3, Hawkins 0.8, other/not voting/undecided 6.5 (four polls)
Forecast: Rated a toss-up by 12 out of 14 prognosticators, with the other two leaning Trump. "Ohio looked like a red state a year ago," noted Cleveland.com last week. "Heading into the presidential debate, it's clearly a toss-up."
2) North Carolina, +1.0
Polling percentages: Biden 45.8, Trump 44.6, Jorgensen 2.0, Hawkins 0.6, Constitution Party nominee Don Blankenship 0.4 (in eight polls), other/not voting/undecided 6.2 (17 polls)
Forecast: 13/14 toss-up, with one leaning Biden. "Most every political veteran in North Carolina, Democrat or Republican, is expecting a close race," reported The New York Times on September 26. "Each of the last three presidential races in the state has been decided by less than four percentage points….[And] a number of people in the state have already voted: Absentee ballots began going out to the state's voters three weeks ago."
2016 results: Trump 49.8, Clinton 46.2, Johnson 2.7, Stein 0.3
3) Iowa, +1.0
Polling percentages: Trump 45.8, Biden 44.8, Jorgensen 2.0, Hawkins 0.7 (in 3 polls), other/not voting/undecided 6.8 (five polls)
Forecast: 9/14 rate it a toss-up, with five leaning Trump. Reports CNN this week: "Trump's campaign canceled its planned television advertising in Iowa and Ohio this week, focusing its spending on states where Trump is behind even as polls show he is neck-and-neck with Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the two Midwestern states."
4) Georgia, +0.6
Polling percentages: Trump 46.6, Biden 45.1, Jorgensen 2.1, Hawkins 1.0, other/not voting/undecided 5.6 (11 polls, four with Hawkins)
Forecast: 12/14 toss-up, with two leaning Trump. "In a wild 2020 election shaped by pandemic, protests and polarizing politics," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote last week, "suburban women could well determine the fate of Georgia's presidential race, two U.S. Senate elections and down-ballot contests. And both parties have sharpened their pitches to win over the once-reliably Republican bloc."
2016 results: Trump 50.4, Clinton 45.4, Johnson 3.0, Evan McMullin 0.3
Bonus state: Alaska, +/- ?
That's a question mark because for some foolish reason POLLSTERS AREN'T INCLUDING THIRD-PARTY CANDIDATES IN ALASKA, NOT EVEN ONCE. This is a particularly unwise tactic in the Last Frontier since voters there are as likely as any in the union to vote against the grain—a combined 12.2 percent for non-Dems/Repubs in 2016. Ralph Nader got 10.1 percent of the vote there in 2000; Ross Perot got 28.4 percent of the vote in 1992.
Forecast: 13/14 prognosticators peg this race as likely or leaning Republican, and fair enough—Alaska has voted for the last 13 consecutive GOP presidential nominees, and by at least 14 percentage points for the past six. "Alaska's values are the values of the Libertarian Party," Jorgensen told the Juneau Empire last month. "We believe in the individual, we believe that people have the right to make their own decisions and we shouldn't be bossed around by the people in Washington. The federal government is too big, too nosy, too, bossy and the worst part is, they usually end up hurting the very people they're trying to help."
2016 results: Trump 51.3, Clinton 36.6, Johnson 5.9, Stein 1.8, Castle 1.2, Reform Party nominee Rocky De La Fuente 0.4