Weekly Feature

Seth Wenig/AP
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Facets of the U.S. Presidential Election: The Independent Vote

January 14, 2008
by Liz Colville
An independent candidacy is often one of the most provocative factors of a presidential election. The proof is in the hubbub surrounding the possibility of New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg’s late bid, still undeclared despite a trail of activity and dozens of supporting groups behind him.

The Deciding Factor

Independent candidates and their supporters can be a deciding force in an election, as the editors of The Nation and others claimed in 2004 when Ralph Nader ran on an independent ticket and allegedly snatched votes away from the Democratic nominee, John Kerry. Said The Nation, in an open letter to Mr. Nader:

“The context for an independent presidential bid is completely altered from 2000, when there was a real base for a protest candidate. The overwhelming mass of voters with progressive values … has only one focus this year: to beat Bush. Any candidacy seen as distracting from that goal will be excoriated by the entire spectrum of potentially progressive voters.”
For background on the importance of third-party candidacies, the History Channel provides a chart of all presidential elections featuring third-party or independent candidates. Some of the most notable are Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive ballot in 1912 (this was his second, and failed, attempt to run for president) and Nader’s, which was on the Green Party line in 2000, and on the Independent line in 2004.

The Independent Voter in 2008

“About three in 10 Americans identify themselves as ’independent‘,” stated the Washington Post. In 2007, the paper published results from a poll in a project called “The Independents,” viewable online, which includes some revealing statistics on the types of voter under the Independent umbrella. The page also includes the PDF of the full poll, graphs, and related articles such as “Independents: Who and How Many?

The Independent Candidate in 2008

Naturally, the Independent ballot is an alluring option, particularly in Election 2008, when many voters will ultimately choose the best candidate available. Currently, Michael Bloomberg, seems the most likely figure to embody the centrist stance. But “centrist” is a symbolic term; a landing pad between Democrat and Republican that has been defined in many different ways.
In a much-discussed article for Time magazine, political commentator Joe Klein calls the centrist (or “realist”) platform is the stance of choice of more Americans as well as more politicians, including figures like Senate majority leader Harry Reid a pro-life Democrat from Nevada.
While some have speculated that Bloomberg’s attendance at a recent bipartisan conference in Oklahoma had “nothing to do” with third-party options, other reports are more suggestive.
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, wrote an article in last week’s issue of the magazine called, “Wealth of Nations,” on Bloomberg’s possible independent run. In it, Remnick discusses the helpful factor of Bloomberg’s considerable wealth (estimated at $11 billion).
But what about the spoiler factor, the label The Nation pinned on Nader? People close to Bloomberg speculated that their man “would not dream of running as a spoiler. He is not the quixotic type. If he runs, it will be to win and because the major parties have selected ‘polarizing’ candidates who leave a large part of the electorate cold.”
How would Bloomberg fare? In an article for USA Today, Susan Page gathers mounting evidence that there would be a strong showing of Bloomberg supporters at the booths, based on a USA Today survey that favored Bloomberg over Giuliani; showed support for Bloomberg from both the lower middle-class tier and from political moderates; and showed that only 11 percent of those polled had never heard of him. To top it off, the article points out that even though Bloomberg was “a lifelong Democrat” before switching to the Republican party when he decided to run for mayor, this important detail alienates very few voters.

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