Politics

Significant Third-Party Vote Unlikely in 2004

Ralph Nader's struggles to gain ballot access in several states for this fall's presidential election underscore the obstacles that third-party candidates face while trying to compete in presidential elections. Nevertheless, every election year, dozens of minor-party candidates gain spots on the ballots in various states. While third-party candidates rarely affect the electoral vote outcome -- Nader's 2000 performance in several closely contested states notwithstanding -- they are a factor that pollsters need to take into account. After all, most presidential preference polling is designed to predict the outcome of the national popular vote, and accurately assessing the third-party vote is important to producing reliable estimates.

Recent Gallup polling designed to assess the potential levels of support for minor parties in this election suggests that only Nader is likely to have a noticeable effect on the popular vote totals.

Historical Background on Third-Party Vote

In presidential elections, the third-party vote has ranged from less than 1% in several elections to 19.7% in 1992. The biggest factor is whether a well-known politician is running as an independent or a third-party candidate, such as George Wallace in 1968, Ross Perot in 1992, and Nader in 2000. Excluding those types of candidates, the vote for all third-party candidates in presidential elections has typically been about 1%.

Vote for Third-Party Candidates, Presidential Elections, 1960-2000

Election

Prominent Third-Party or Independent Candidate

Percentage Vote

All Other Third-Party Candidates

Total Third-Party Vote

         

2000

Ralph Nader

2.7%

1.0%

3.7%

1996

Ross Perot

8.4%

1.6%

10.0%

1992

Ross Perot

18.9%

0.8%

19.7%

1988

--

--

1.0%

1.0%

1984

--

--

0.7%

0.7%

1980

John Anderson

6.6%

1.7%

8.3%

1976

Eugene McCarthy

0.9%

1.0%

1.9%

1972

--

--

1.8%

1.8%

1968

George Wallace

12.9%

1.3%

14.2%

1964

--

--

0.6%

0.6%

1960

--

--

0.8%

0.8%

Source: Federal election statistics

2004 Third-Party Outlook

In an attempt to gauge the potential size of the third-party vote this year, Gallup asked Americans, in an open-ended fashion, if there were any candidates running for president this year aside from George W. Bush and John Kerry for whom they "would seriously consider voting." Respondents could name as many candidates as they could think of.

Other than John Kerry and George W. Bush, is there any other candidate running for president in this fall's election for whom you would seriously consider voting? Who is that? [OPEN-ENDED]

 

Registered
voters

 

%

No other candidates (only Kerry or Bush)

91

Ralph Nader/Ralph Nader's Party

3

Constitution Party candidate (non-specific)

*

Green Party candidate (non-specific)

*

Libertarian Party candidate (non-specific)

*

   

Other specific Democrat

2

Other specific Republican

1

Other

1

 

No opinion

3

   

*Less than 1%

Percentages may add to more than 100% due to multiple responses

Among registered voters nationwide, 91% say they would not consider voting for someone other than Bush or Kerry. An additional 3% mention politicians who are affiliated with the Republican or Democratic Party, but who are not candidates for the presidency, such as Howard Dean or Bill Clinton*. Only 4% say they would seriously consider voting for a third-party candidate, while an additional 3% are uncertain at this time.

Nader is the only nonmajor-party candidate whom respondents mention by name, and just 3% mention him. Perhaps not coincidentally, 3% is about the level of support Nader currently gets in Gallup's presidential trial heat question. Beyond that, some respondents (though less than 1% in all cases) say they would consider supporting the candidates of Constitution, Green, and Libertarian parties -- though in no cases were those parties' 2004 candidates for president mentioned by name.

Since minor-party candidates for president are rarely well known, voters may not be able to identify them by name. However, that does not mean they could not vote for them on Election Day. As long as a voter knows which party he or she supports, he or she can vote for that party's candidate, because all states list candidates' party affiliations on the ballot. As such, Gallup asked American voters if there were other parties, aside from the Republican and Democratic parties, for whom they would seriously consider voting.

Other than the Democratic Party and Republican Party, is there any other political party running a candidate for president in this fall's election for whom you would seriously consider voting? Which party is that? [OPEN-ENDED]

 

 

Registered
voters

 

%

No other parties (only Republican or Democratic)

92

Nader's Party/Ralph Nader

2

Independent Party

1

Libertarian Party

1

Green Party

*

   

Other

1

   

No opinion

3

   

*Less than 1%

Percentages may add to more than 100% due to multiple responses

The results are similar to those on the question about support for other candidates -- 92% of registered voters say they would not consider voting for candidates from parties other than the Republican and Democratic parties**. Only 5% say they would seriously consider voting for a party other than the two major ones, and an additional 3% are unsure. Specifically, 2% of registered voters say "Ralph Nader's party" -- at this time, it is unclear what party affiliation, if any, Nader will have, and his party designation is likely to vary by state. An additional 1% say the "Independent" Party, which could be interpreted as Nader support. One percent say the Libertarian Party, and less than 1% mention the Green Party. One percent gave miscellaneous responses that did not mention a specific political party by name.

Bottom Line

Aside from Nader, no other third-party candidate is likely to significantly impact the final popular vote in the 2004 presidential election. At most, 1% say they would seriously consider voting for a minor party or minor-party candidate other than Nader. That figure is consistent with the combined minor-party support in past elections.

Even Nader's share of the national popular vote is likely to be small given his relatively low levels of current support and the fact that he may not be on the ballot in a significant number of states. The full extent of his impact will be largely determined over the next several weeks in state election offices and courtrooms.

Nevertheless, third-party candidates could affect the electoral vote, if those voters would have otherwise voted for one of the major parties. For example, in 2000, Bush received just 537 more votes than Al Gore did in Florida, while 138,067 voters in that state voted for third-party candidates. Similarly, in New Mexico, Gore beat Bush by only 366 votes, while 25,405 New Mexicans cast ballots for third-party candidates.

Gallup will continue to monitor the ballot status of third-party candidates in this fall's election, and to periodically assess potential support for minor-party candidates.

*These results are based on interviews with 449 registered voters, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 9-11, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is ±5 percentage points.

**These results are based on interviews with 448 registered voters, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 9-11, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is ±5 percentage points.

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/12877/Significant-ThirdParty-Vote-Unlikely-2004.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030