Expect a Third-Party Candidate in 2012


AUGUST 25, 2011

Ross Perot in 1992 and John Anderson in 1980 garnered exceptionally high levels of support.

By PATRICK H. CADDELL And DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

The United States is in the midst of what we would both call a prerevolutionary moment, and there is widespread support for fundamental change in the system. An increasing number of Americans are now searching beyond the two parties for bold and effective leadership.

A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted earlier this month found that “just 17% of likely U.S. voters think that the federal government today has the consent of the governed,” while an extraordinary 69% “believe the government does not have that consent.” Related Video OpinionJournal.com Assistant Editor Allysia Finley on how Republican candidates match up against President Obama in swing states.

What’s more, a poll of 1,000 Americans conducted by Douglas E. Schoen LLC in April found that a solid majority of Americans are now looking for alternatives to the two-party system. Overall, a majority (57%) of all respondents said there is a need for a third party.

More than half (51%) of voters favored having a third major political party. Nearly one-third (31%) said that having a third major party in our country is very important. Voters favored having a major third party run a candidate for president in 2012 58%-13%—with one in five saying they were absolutely certain or very likely to vote for a third-party candidate.

In line with these findings, 52% of all respondents in a May Gallup poll said there is a need for a third party, and for the first time in Gallup’s history, a majority of Republicans embraced the idea. In a June Rasmussen poll, 30% of respondents said they would consider voting for a third-party candidate for president in 2012.

These findings are consistent with what we learned from a series of in-depth focus groups conducted by Patrick Caddell with nearly 100 Americans across the country—of every economic class—who had voted for President Obama in 2008 and are at the moment undecided. These focus groups indicated that the American people are desperate for a leader who stands outside of the political establishment currently running Washington. A leader who can speak for the American majority—offering not just rhetoric, but a new direction and a proven record of getting things done. schoen Associated Press Ross Perot during his Independent presidential campaign in 1992.

We already see evidence on the ground that from the discontent coursing through the electorate there may emerge a third or even fourth political party that would be competitive in next year’s presidential election. Look no further than the recent launch of the centrist, bipartisan, Americans Elect. This is a nonprofit political organization that plans to break the stranglehold of the two-party duopoly by selecting a third presidential ticket, via an Internet convention, that will be on the ballot in 2012.

Meanwhile the tea party movement is functioning as a quasi-third party already, having already demonstrated an unprecedented level of activism, enthusiasm and influence over the primary and general-election outcomes during the 2010 midterms—and, most recently, driving the debate over the debt ceiling. Polling done by Douglas E. Schoen LLC last year shows that a tea party presidential candidate could get between 15%-25% of the vote running on that line, depending on the precise alignment of the candidates.

There are now rumblings from Donald Trump, a former contender for the Republican nomination, that he may run as an independent. There are certain to be others.

We have seen in the past where economic distress and political alienation can lead. In both the 1980 and 1992 presidential campaigns, third-party candidates emerged—John Anderson and then Ross Perot—and each garnered high levels of public support. Mr. Perot actually led in the polls for several months during the 1992 campaign. And the conditions in those years were nowhere near as severe as they are today.

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.

Mr. Caddell served as a pollster for President Jimmy Carter. Mr. Schoen, who served as a pollster for President Bill Clinton, is author of “The Political Fix” (Henry Holt, 2010).

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One thought on “Expect a Third-Party Candidate in 2012

  1. Not likely.

    “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.”

    This is the key to this argument, but historically a third party replaces one of the two major parties that creates the vacuum. For a 3rd party effort to succeed, Caddell and Schoen have to make a credible argument that either the GOP or the Democratic Party will disappear and I don’t see that yet. We do have a voter revolt against the status quo by the Tea Party, but that is not a 3rd party movement. The TP has made it clear that they want to influence the electoral and governing strategies of the existing parties. This is how it should work. I expect more disgruntled voters may gravitate toward the Tea Party if they can get past the media myth that it is a right-wing splinter group. It’s mainstream, non-elite America and is only ideological in the conservative, traditional sense of 200+ years of American small-town politics.

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