Four contenders for the GOP's presidential nomination are polling competitively with President Obama among registered voters, according to a new poll. How do potential Independent or third party presidential hopefuls match up against the candidates of the major parties? We don't know, because the pollsters never ask.
The new survey, published on Monday, asked just over 1000 registered voters how they would cast their ballots if the 2012 presidential election were held today, matching up the President against four potential rivals from the Republican Party's primary field: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ran at the head of the pack, closely edging out the President 48% to 46%. Texas Governor Rick Perry polled evenly with the President 47% to 47%. President Obama had a narrow edge over Texas Rep. Ron Paul 47% to 45%, while outpolling Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann by a more comfortable margin 48% to 44%. All four results were within the poll's margin of error of +/- 4%.
While Republican and Democratic respondents dutifully fell out along partisan lines, supporting their own by massive margins, Independent opinion more closely resembled the larger sample. Interestingly, however, among Independents three of the four Republicans outpolled the president. Once again, Mitt Romney led the pack. Independents preferred the former Massachusetts governor to President Obama 47% to 44%. Ron Paul was also more popular than the President among Independents. The longtime Texas Congressman came out in front of Obama by three percentage points, 46% to 43%. The margin between Obama and Perry was slightly tighter, though Independents still preferred the Texas governor to the incumbent, 46% to 44%. The only Republican whom Independents did not prefer over the President was Michelle Bachmann, who garnered just 42% support to the president's 48%.
Unfortunately, the survey did not ask respondents if they would have preferred an Independent or third party candidate to any of the the representatives of the major parties, despite the fact that a majority of Americans consistently tell pollsters they would consider voting for an Independent or third party candidate for President. Indeed, a Gallup poll from May found that 52% of all respondents and 68% of Independents said that the Democrats and Republicans do such a poor job representing the American people that the country needs a third major party.
Perhaps one might object, in defense of the pollster, that there are no high profile Independent or third party presidential hopefuls who have definitively thrown their hats into the political ring. But has that ever stopped a pollster before when it comes to gauging support for Democrats and Republicans? Like many other polling organizations, Gallup routinely measures support for the President against a "generic" rival from the other major party. As Gallup's report on the most recent survey states, the organization has already conducted six surveys this year asking respondents whether they would be more likely to vote for Barack Obama or "the Republican Party's candidate for president" in 2012.
If polling organizations were to find that there is signficant support for an Independent candidate for President, even a generic one, it could very well change the shape of the race, and lead individuals who are considering an Independent run to take the leap. Isn't it time that polling organizations begin measuring support for alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans, especially given the historic levels of frustration and discontent with the major parties?
There are more Independents in the United States today than there are Democrats or Republicans. Shouldn't the Independent option get a fair shake in the polls? Back in April, Ryan Jaroncyk composed a template letter for Independents to send to Gallup urging them to "conduct more regular surveys regarding the option of a third party presidential candidate in 2012, as well as a third major party in national politics at large." Why not consider dropping them a message?