Americans think both major political parties are ideologically extreme. And 37% of them say they'd be open to supporting a third party candidate for President next year. Will 2012 be the year that finally sees a viable candidate from outside the two party system? Probably not.
37% of voters may be open to supporting a third party candidate but there's considerable division within those ranks about what kind of third party candidate they'd want to support. 14% of them want someone who's to the left of the Democrats. 29% want someone who's to the right of the Republicans. The largest group at 48% does want a centrist- someone more conservative than the Democrats but more liberal than the Republicans- but that only accounts for 18% of the overall electorate even open to supporting a middle ground third party candidate for President. That's not going to pick you up too many electoral votes.
There's no doubt that Americans might like options besides the current parties. 47% of them think the Democratic Party's too liberal to 34% who think it's about right and 10% who think it's too conservative. And 45% think the Republicans Party's too conservative to 29% who think it's about right and 18% who think it's too liberal. But there's not going to be any one size fits all alternative to the parties that's going to please everyone who thinks they're too extreme. And that's why we'll probably have yet another election next year without a serious third party candidate.
There is one other intriguing finding within these numbers though- 44% of Republicans are open to supporting a third party candidate next year to only 24% of Democrats who say they are. That should be a big red flag for the GOP when it comes to the possibility of nominating someone who the party base doesn't see as sufficiently conservative. Republican voters in Nevada, Alaska, Delaware, and Colorado this year showed they were willing to lose general elections to prove a point to the more centrist wing of their party.
If someone mad about Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels getting nominated ran to their right and pulled even just 3-5% in the general election that would probably scuttle just about any GOP hopes of knocking off Barack Obama. And a fair number of their folks are at least open to the possibility of doing that. It could be a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation for Republicans- nominate someone too far right and lose the independents or nominate someone too centrist and lose some of your own folks to a third party. How the party handles that dynamic may prove to be the biggest story of the 2012 cycle.
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