BOWMAN: A third party threat?


More than 100 Republicans have signed a letter announcing their intention to consider forming a third party if the Republican Party does not make certain changes. What do the polls show about the likelihood of its success?

Americans like choices, so polls that ask Americans whether we need a third party almost always show strong support. In a Gallup poll from late January-early February this year, 62 percent said that Democrats and Republicans do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed. Only a third voiced support for the current two-party system. Sentiment has hovered around 60 percent in the poll since 2013.

Additionally, neither political party is viewed very positively these days. In the latest NBC News poll from April, 32 percent had a positive opinion of the GOP and 46 percent a negative one. For the Democratic Party, the responses were slightly better, at 39 and 41 percent, respectively. Today, more people are identifying themselves as independents. This is particularly true for young people. In the same Gallup poll, 50 percent of those surveyed identified as independents, for the first time since the 1930s. In a later Gallup poll from April, more Americans identified as independents (40 percent) than Republicans (26 percent) or Democrats (31 percent).

A question the Pew Research Center has asked after every presidential election since 1988 provides a different perspective on the issue. When people were asked after each election how satisfied they were with the choice of presidential candidates, more than 60 percent in all but two elections reported being satisfied. The exceptions were the 1996 election (52 percent satisfied), the 2016 election (44 percent satisfied), and the 2020 election (57 percent satisfied).

Could the new third-party effort make a difference in 2022? Yes, in some cases if the effort has the resources (money and campaign workers) and the candidates. But will Republicans dissatisfied with Trump risk electing Democrats, something that could happen if a new party dilutes the GOP vote? A third party could also hurt Democrats if Republicans who voted for Biden don’t like what they perceive as a progressive direction of the Biden administration and want a moderate alternative. If the effort gets off the ground, any of these scenarios could happen.

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