Weekend Poll and Comment Forum: Who Benefits Most from a Strong Third-Party Challenge in 2012?

There’s much talk about the possibility of a third-party candidate in 2012. What would a third-party candidate (not of the Libertarian Party, necessarily, but more of a protest-celebrity candidacy, e.g., Sarah Palin) mean for the 2012 general election?

Naturally, the LP’s executive director expresses umbrage at the assumption that there’s not already a viable third-party effort in the Libertarian Party, itself. See, LP responds to Wall Street Journal editorial.

It’s summer, with a long year ahead; why not have fun speculating?

In the Wall Street Journal, pollster Pat Caddell and pundit Doug Schoen are sure there will be a third-party candidate (of the John Anderson or Ross Perot-type):

The political order as we know it is deteriorating and disintegrating, and politics abhors a vacuum. So there is very good reason to believe that a credible third party, or even fourth political party, may be on the ballot in 2012. The American people clearly are looking for alternatives. Now.

Public Policy Polling, surveying the possibility of a third-party candidacy, concludes that third-party bids (even from the left!) would help Obama more than Gov. Romney:

But we took a look at seven possible independent candidates against Obama and his strongest GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, and found that the chances of defection by GOP-inclined voters are stronger than are cracks in the Democrats’ armor. Despite their grumbling, Democrats remain pretty united behind Obama, and six of the seven possible independent candidates would hurt Romney more than the president.

(Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight shares the view that Pres. Obama would be the Democrats’ strongest general-election candidate, rather than, say, a Hillary Clinton candidacy. That seems right to me.)

If there should be a third-party candidacy, of a candidate like Perot or John Anderson, what would it mean?

I’d guess it would (1) help Pres. Obama, (2) help a recall against Gov. Walker if the recall were held at the same time as the presidential general election (as it might be), and (3) might help Democrats running for state or local offices. A less formidable Republican presidential candidate (weakened in whatever way) might produce a weaker retention campaign on behalf of Gov. Walker. Some in the GOP may doubt Gov. Romney, for example, but I think he’d do better in Wisconsin than most other Republicans; his weakness in whatever form would hurt, not help, other GOP candidates.

(I see that Reagan is the exception — as a challenger, he won an absolute majority, and an electoral college landslide, despite a relatively strong third-party candidate. I’m doubtful any candidate will have that kind of electoral college strength, and landslide victory, next year.)

Below is a poll on this topic, and space for commenting, too: Would a strong third-party candidate help Pres. Obama or his GOP Challenger?

Comments will be moderated against profanity and trolls; otherwise have at it. This post will be open until Sunday morning.

10 thoughts on “Weekend Poll and Comment Forum: Who Benefits Most from a Strong Third-Party Challenge in 2012?

  1. I don’t think a third-party candidate will necessarily benefit President Obama. Ralph Nader helped Bush, not Gore. A liberal protest candiate will harm the campaign of the only liberal who really has a chance to win.

  2. A third party effort splits the votes of frustrated people to help the politician who has been frustrating them

  3. Obama wants to split the right. He wants to divide and conquer. Third parties will help him.

  4. Really depends on which way the 3rd Party candidate leans…if Left, hurts Obama; if Right, will hurt Republican challenger. With Pat Paulsen and Harold Stassen no longer available, I will be supporting Zippy the Pinhead for President.

  5. It helps Obama nationally. Hard to say what effect it might have on a recall in November 2012 or in local races. Republicans might be disillusioned nationally without changing their allegiance to Walker or Republicans in assembly and senate.

  6. 2008 was supposed to be a good year for the Libertarian party, but it wasn’t that good at all.

    It’s just as possible that 2012 will have lots of independent candidates, but that none will make a splash (not a splash that changes the result).

    I’m in the ‘not sure’ camp.

  7. Heard Andy Borowitz recently comment that nationally there is a strong trend to support candidates without experience or knowhow as somehow better choices. If there is a 3rd party candidate, my hope is that the candidate is solid and knowledgeable.

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