Will ‘Americans Elect’ Elect Obama?

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Obama: Send in the clowns! Romney: Please don't!
Obama: Send in the clowns! Romney: Please don't! Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images, Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Alex Wong/Getty Images

Last month I argued that, even though Democrats are the ones freaking out about Americans Elect, a third-party candidate is more likely to steal votes from the Republican than from President Obama. A new poll from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner has a little more evidence of this. The poll shows Obama and Mitt Romney locked in a tight race (Obama at 47 percent, Romney at 46 percent), but that third-party candidates draw heavily from Romney.

In a three-way race with Ron Paul, Obama’s  lead would jump to nine points. (Obama would lose just 4 percentage points, and Romney would lose 12.) The poll also tested a crazy five-candidate race with Obama, Romney, Paul, Donald Trump, and Michael Bloomberg. In that race, Obama’s lead over Romney would climb even higher, to 12 percent.

Now, that doesn’t calculate the impact of a three-way race with just, say, a Bloomberg. The poll didn’t test that one. GQR did tell me that supporters of Bloomberg and Trump combined favored Romney heavily over Obama, by a 62 percent–21 percent margin. Presumably, that margin would be a lot tighter for Bloomberg alone (they didn’t have that figure.)

But I think the basic presumption is that a third-party vote is less an expression of ideological positioning than discontent with the status quo. Even a Bloomberg-esque candidate offering a platform pretty similar to Obama's might draw more from the potential Romney vote. The main thrust of public opinion is that it’s unhappy with the state of things, but deeply hostile to the Republican Party. The Republicans need a lot of votes from people who are just angry with the status quo but don’t want to put Republicans back in power. A third-party candidate would probably drain that away.