Presidential Race Maps Writing on the Wall

Third Party Candidates: Can They Swing This Election?

Posted Sep 30, 2008 at 11:22 AM by Maurice Berger

On our new Voices on the Ground page, reader Oliver Wasow asks about the Barr/Nader factor and whether third party candidates can make a difference in this election. While Ralph Nader and Bob Barr are barely registering in national polls--their PollTrack averages are 3% and 1.5% respectively--they can make a difference in this election. Take the new ABC News/Washington Post Poll released this evening: Obama 50% to McCain 46%, a net plus of 4% for Obama. Add in the two third party candidates, and the numbers change subtly, but significantly: Obama 48%, McCain 45%, Nader 3%, Barr 2%. There is no guarantee that Nader and Barr will continue to draw the same level of support on election day; but the reverse is also true--their numbers could increase. If the election draws closer again--keep in mind, that the three point margin for Obama is within the poll's margin of error--third party candidates could draw away enough votes from the Democrat or Republican to swing a very close state or two.

How Close is Close?

Posted Aug 14, 2008 at 4:26 AM by Maurice Berger

While Pew and most other recent surveys call the race a statistical tie--based on the closeness of the numbers and the polls' margin of error--the consistency of these results suggest that Barack Obama does maintain a modest national lead, despite losing ground since June.  All but a few national polls (the exception: Zogby and several Rasmussen Daily Tracking results) give Obama, on average, a 2-4% advantage nationally. 

The problem for both candidates: neither crosses the 50% mark, suggesting a large undecided block as well as support for neither or for third party candidates. Of course, the importance of this threshold declines in relation to third party support (now at around 5% on average for Nader and Barr combined). If these numbers increase considerably--as they did in 1992 for Ross Perot, who wound up with 19% of the vote--then, of course, it is likely that neither Obama nor McCain will win a majority of the electorate in a relatively close race. (In 1992, Clinton's margin of victory was 5.5%, but he won with only 43% of the vote).

But, of course, American presidential elections are not won on the basis of the national popular vote. Thus the literal tie seen in the poll averages of a number of key swing states--Ohio, Virginia, and Nevada, for example--may indeed suggest a race that will go down to the wire.