Independent Candidates Both Viable and Competitive

In a post at Daily Kos, Steve Singiser takes a look "behind door #3" and is surprised by the "multitude of legitimate non-partisan contenders" in high-profile bids for public office this year, and writes: "while voter esteem for the Democratic Party has gone from good to bad, voter esteem for the GOP has gone from worse. This would seem to open the door for a third option." Singiser helpfully summarizes recent polls surveying support for independent candidates in Florida (Crist), Rhode Island (Chafee), Massachusetts (Cahill) and Maine (Cutler). Excerpts:
  • A McLaughlin and Associates poll taken immediately before Crist's announcement had him leading a three-way tabulation, taking 33% of the vote, versus 29% of the vote for Republican Marco Rubio and 15% of the vote for Democrat Kendrick Meek. It is worth noting, however, that the pollster in question (Jim McLaughlin) did express strong doubts that Crist could hold that position.
  • The most recent poll out of Massachusetts shows Tim Cahill running second (with 29% of the vote), within striking distance of incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick (who sat at 34%). Patrick has led most 2010 polling, although he has struggled to garner a significant plurality. In the half-dozen polls released in 2010 pairing Patrick with Cahill and GOP nominee Charlie Baker, Patrick has done no better than 35%, while Cahill has done no worse than 21%.
  • Probably the Indie contender in the best position is Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee. Since he announced in early January that he would be seeking the office of Governor as an Independent, he has either tied or led in every poll conducted in the state's gubernatorial race. Interestingly, the heavily-blue state of Rhode Island has not elected a Democratic governor since 1992, when Bruce Sundlund was elected as a Dem.
  • While there has been scant polling from the state of Maine, this is a state that has demonstrated an appetite for Independent candidacies in the past. Independent Barbara Merrill nabbed 22% of the vote in 2006 (holding Democratic incumbent John Baldacci to just 38%), and Independent Angus King managed to win election in 1994, and then re-election in 1998, against legitimate contenders from both parties. Maine was also, for those who like their presidential history, the state that came within just fifteen thousand votes from giving Ross Perot his only electoral vote in 1992 (Perot actually came in second in the state's 2nd CD, winning 33% of the vote). Furthermore, a late 2009 poll from PPP (PDF file) tested the strength of a nameless third party candidate in Maine. The generic Indie candidate logged 18% of the vote.

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