Dems: Third-party candidate could be viable in 2012

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg says new survey data show voters are increasingly receptive to a third-party presidential candidate, who would likely draw more votes from the Republicans than from President Obama.

“The third-party candidate, with this data … might take more from the Republicans,” said Greenberg, a founder of the Quinlan Rosner polling firm. He believes a third-party contender would draw disproportionate support from white voters who lack college degrees.

His July survey of 1,481 likely voters showed that 58 percent of Republican-leaning voters and 70 percent of independents would consider backing a third-party candidate. The poll showed that 38 percent of Republicans and 25 percent of independents would reject the notion, Greenberg said in a Friday briefing with reporters.

There “is clearly a space for such a candidate to come in[to]” the 2012 race, Greenberg asserted. “More voters, particularly blue-collar voters, think a third party is an option.” (RELATED: Nader rules out another run but ‘almost 100 percent’ certain Obama will face primary challenge)

The prospect of a third-party candidate drew immediate interest from Democrats. The polling data suggesting voter receptivity to such a candidacy is within “striking numbers,” said Democratic activist Will Marshall.

Greenberg is a Democrat partisan. He worked as a pollster for President Bill Clinton, and his wife is Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

The new survey was completed under contract for the Democratic-affiliated Democracy Corps and the Women’s Voices, Women Vote Action Fund.

Greenberg has been polling for Democracy Corps for a decade and told The Daily Caller he has “released all the data … People are free to judge the credibility.” The survey results are posted on the firm’s website.

The poll’s results “are not very pretty … the political class as whole gets hit, the Republicans more,” he said.

In recent elections Democratic activists have backed third-party candidates in the hope of draining votes from insurgent conservatives. For example, Democrat Jack Davis ran as a third-party candidate in the May 24 race for New York’s 26th Congressional District. Davis attracted 9 percent of the vote, helping the Democratic candidate edge the GOP nominee by a 47–42 margin.

In the 1992 presidential election, Ross Perot ran as a third-party candidate and won 19 percent of the vote. Pollsters still argue over whether he helped Bill Clinton, who won election with 43 percent, compared to the 37.5 percent won by then-President George H.W. Bush.

Perot voters had a history of voting twice as much for Republican candidates, including President Ronald Reagan, rather than for Democratic candidates, Greenberg said.

If Perot’s votes had been divided 2 to 1 between Bush and Clinton, Bush would have won 50.1 percent of the vote, and Clinton would have won 49.3 percent. However, because swing voters usually break against an incumbent, especially in a tough economy, more of his voters would likely have voted for Clinton and given him the presidency if Perot had withdrawn.

Going into the 2012 election, Obama’s coalition is more solid that the GOP’s, Greenberg said. For example, only 39 percent of Democrats would consider a third-party candidate, he said. But, he continued, Obama “is stuck at 48 percent [approval]… all these numbers are heading towards a close difficult election.”