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Three’s a Party!

Room For Three?

By John Zogby, President and CEO, Zogby International
As appears in the April, 2007 print editions of Campaigns and Elections Magazine

It’s a question I get everywhere—whenever I do speeches, make an appearance or do an interview: What are the chances of a new third party? One of my pat responses is that there’s always a centrist political party waiting to be formed. Generally, there’s a group of unaffiliated voters concerned that both political parties may go too far to the fringes. These are people who voted for Ross Perot and find the “maverick” John McCain appealing.

The 2004 election was an anomaly. Seldom has this country been so polarized. Add to this that the election promised to be very close between President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry, leaving little room for a third-party choice. Close elections don’t breed a high confidence level for voting third-party. In 2004, the swing voter declined in number. But we’re now right back to where we were in the 1990s and right back to the era of Ross Perot, where a third party could in fact make its way again.

But there’s an interesting twist. The likely third-party voter has shifted to the far right. We did a lengthy interactive survey of 9,612 voters nationwide, from Feb. 16 to 19, and asked how satisfied they were with the current choices for president.

By and large, 58 percent said they are very or somewhat satisfied. But 37 percent said they are somewhat or very dissatisfied. Particularly noteworthy is that 45 percent of independents and 47 percent of Republicans are somewhat or very dissatisfied. Only 21 percent of Democrats feel this way. So it’s looking to me right now like the Democrats are pleased with their candidates.

It gets dicier for the Republicans. Rudy Giuliani is one of those few politicians who doesn’t need a last name; he’s “America’s Mayor.” McCain is the maverick independent with strong conservative credentials. Mitt Romney is a gifted entrepreneur twice elected in a Democratic state. But Republicans seem to be holding out for the “Great Conservative.” So we wondered how likely people would be to consider a third-party candidate.

McCain’s nomination in particular could lead conservative voters to look elsewhere. We found that if the election were between Clinton and McCain, 31 percent of self-described conservatives and 40 percent of self-described very conservatives said they would be very or somewhat likely to vote for a minor party or third-party candidate. In a race between Edwards and McCain, 28 percent of conservatives and 35 percent of very conservatives would be likely to vote for a third-party candidate. Between Obama and McCain, 26 percent of conservatives and 36 percent of very conservatives would likely cast their vote for a third-party candidate.

Romney is the least likely of Republican front-runners to drive conservatives toward a third-party candidate. The smallest likelihood is when Romney is pitted against Obama; 17 percent of self-described conservatives and 20 percent of self-described very conservatives said they would be likely to vote for a third party with this pairing. In a race between Romney and Edwards, 18 percent of self-described conservatives and 22 percent of self-described very conservatives would be likely to vote for a third-party candidate—while in a race between Romney and Clinton, 19 percent of conservatives and 22 percent of very conservatives said they would vote for a third party.

Giuliani falls between McCain and Romney. In a Giuliani vs. Clinton race, 20 percent of self-described conservatives and 30 percent of self-described very conservatives said they would look to a third party, while 19 percent of conservatives and 29 percent of very conservatives would say the same if the race were against Edwards. A ballot featuring Obama and Giuliani would prompt 19 percent of conservatives and 26 percent of very conservatives to consider a third-party candidate.

For now, Republicans (especially McCain) should look over their shoulders—their right shoulders. Conserv-atives are not pleased and may be looking at a third-party option.

John Zogby, president of Zogby International, is widely considered one of the world’s most accurate pollsters. You can comment on the Zogby Forums.


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