Tuesday, February 26, 2019


Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, a pollster and political science professor, published a New York Times op-ed last month called "Why Trump Will Lose in 2020" -- but that was before Howard Schultz began making noises about running as an independent. Dr. Bitecofer, who conducts polls for the Wason Center for Public Policy, alerts us to the results of Wason's latest survey, which suggests that a third-party run could turn a Democratic blowout into a Trump win.
The Wason Center survey of likely 2020 voters shows that, in a conventional two-party race, the Democratic Party nominee holds an 11-point advantage over Trump, 48%-37%, well outside the +/- 3.2 margin of error. However, when respondents are offered the option of an Independent candidate, a far different picture emerges. Under this scenario, the race becomes a statistical tie between Trump (34%) and the Democrat (32%). Fully 16% of likely voters indicate they would vote for the Independent candidate and another 16% report being undecided — up from 9% in the two-way contest.

... the Democrat loses five times more voters than Trump (16 points vs. 3 points). That is, for every voter who switches from Donald Trump to the Independent, five voters switch from the Democrat to the Independent.
It's just one poll, but the numbers are bad.

The dropoff is quite extraordinary. In a two-person race, Trump gets 86% of the Republican vote; with an independent in the race, he's down to 78% -- an 8-point drop. The drop among Democratic voters, by contrast, is 23 points -- the Democratic candidate goes from 95% to 72%.

With no independent in the race, men go for Trump 44%-38%; add an independent and the numbers are 44%-20% (with 23% going independent) -- Trump doesn't lose any men, while the Democrat loses nearly half of his or her male supporters. And oddly, this isn't primarily a white phenomenon -- non-white support for the Democrat drops from 70% to 43% with an independent in the race.

And why wouldn't this be the case? The Democratic Party has a terrible brand. For years, Republicans have nationalized every election, portraying each contest as a one between pure evil -- the Democrats, along with their putative support network of radical college professors, Hollyweird celebrities, and effete soy boys -- and pure good. Democrats, by contrast, run against their opponents, or against the president of the United States when he's a Republican, but they never run against the Republican Party. And they don't run with pride in being Democrats -- swing-district 2018 House candidates downplayed their party affiliation; Bernie Sanders allied himself with the Democrats in 2016 only long enough to run for president, and is doing the same thing agin this year. Even Democrats mock the Democrats. I mock the Democrats. So it makes sense that a significant percentage of anti-Trump voters would blow off the Democratic Party if given an alternative.

Bitecofer writes:
Analysis of these “defectors” reveals that a plurality, 39%, self-identify as Independents under a “soft screen” for partisanship. But under a “hard screen,” where voters who indicate that they are Independents are then asked if they lean towards one party or another, defectors are 45% Democrat, 31% Republican, and 19% Independent. This, too, suggests that the appetite for an Independent candidate is greater among Democrats. The vast majority of defectors (77%) describe their ideology as “moderate.”
Here's a problem for 2020: While defeating Trump is made significantly more difficult by the introduction of a third-party candidate (because the anti-Trump vote is split), the electorate is already split into three camps -- liberal, moderate, and conservative. In 2020, the liberals and most of the moderates should just band together to dump Trump -- but even if it's a two-person race, the moderates might be alienated by a progressive Democratic nominee (or the progressives might be alienated by a moderate nominee). Some brand loyalty would mitigate this problem somewhat, but Democrats haven't tried to build brand loyalty in years.

So the 2020 outcome is still very much in doubt, no matter how unpopular the president may be.

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