There’s good news and bad news in the latest Gallup poll on Americans’ desire for a major 3rd Party.
The good news is that at 57%, this is the highest demand we’ve seen during any recent Presidential election year. The bad news is that we’ve seen levels this high before. Additionally, this desire for a 3rd Party doesn’t actually translate into massive third party support when it comes time to actually voting.
PRINCETON, N.J. — A majority of Americans, 57%, continue to say that a third major U.S. political party is needed, while 37% disagree, saying the two parties are doing an adequate job of representing the American people. These views are similar to what Gallup has measured in each of the last three years. However, they represent a departure from public opinion in 2008 and 2012 — the last two presidential election years — when Americans were evenly divided on the need for a third party.
These results are based on Gallup’s annual Governance poll. The poll was conducted Sept. 7-11, at a time when Americans’ views of the Republican and Democratic parties are near historical lows, and when Americans hold highly negative opinions of both major-party presidential nominees. In 2008 and 2012, Americans’ favorable ratings of the parties were slightly more positive than today, but their favorable ratings of the presidential candidates were far better.
In those years, third-party presidential candidates received less than 2% of the popular vote for president. This year, third-party candidates are getting about 10% of the vote combined in presidential preference polls. Should that level of support hold between now and Election Day, it would be the strongest performance for third-party candidates since the 1992 and 1996 campaigns, when Ross Perot ran for president.
As might be expected, independents have consistently been most likely among the major political groups to believe a third party is needed. Currently, 73% of independents, 51% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats favor the formation of a third party. Republicans’ preference for a third party today ranks among the highest Gallup has found for a partisan group, along with a 52% reading among Republicans in 2013 and 50% for Democrats in 2006.
Americans’ usual preference for a third major political party had subsided in the last two presidential election years, but that pattern did not repeat itself this year. In 2008 and 2012, Americans’ general contentment with the major-party nominees may have led them to believe the parties were doing an adequate job of representing their views, and thus there was little appetite for a third party. This was the case in 2012, even as the well-funded “Americans Elect” movement aimed at providing the infrastructure for a credible third-party candidate could not field a viable candidate.
The political environment is different this year, with Hillary Clinton’s favorable ratings struggling to break 40%, while Trump’s have been stuck even lower at around 33%. Four years ago, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein combined for just over 1% of the national popular vote as the Libertarian and Green Party presidential nominees, respectively. This year, with those two third-party candidates nominated again, their support in pre-election polls among likely voters is nearly 10%.
With 57% of Americans favoring a third major political party, but only about one in 10 voters currently saying they will vote for a third-party candidate, Americans’ appetite for a third party may not be as great as they say it is. The gap between preference for a third party and support for third-party candidates in this year’s election may also reflect the structural challenges third parties face, Americans’ unfamiliarity with the third-party candidates and possibly Americans’ reluctance to cast their vote for a candidate with little chance of winning.
Here’s the chart of the trend over time. Still no breakout.
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