Five times as many voters would defect from the Democratic nominee to an independent presidential candidate in 2020 as would abandon Donald Trump for an independent, according to a national survey of likely voters by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
The new Wason Center poll asked likely voters their preference in a head-to-head race between Trump and a generic Democrat, and then asked their preference if the ballot included an independent candidate. In the two-way race, voters preferred the Democrat by 11 points, 48% to 37%, well outside the survey’s +/-3.2% margin of error. But in the three-way race, 16% of voters chose the independent, putting Trump (34%) and the generic Democrat (32%) into a statistical tie.
The key to that dramatic change is the difference in defection rate, as the Democrat loses 5 voters to the independent candidate for every one Trump loses (16 points vs. 3 points).
“The Democrats’ visceral reaction to a potential Howard Schultz run doesn’t look like an overreaction,” said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. “A five-to-one defection rate is cause for alarm.”
Further analysis revealed that 45% of the “defectors” self-identify or lean Democratic, compared with 31% Republican and 19% independent. Fully 77% describe their political ideology as “moderate.”
The Wason Center poll suggests that an independent candidate who campaigns in 2020 in hopes of denying President Trump a second term is likely to split the opposition vote in close states and tip the Electoral College to Trump. Every state except Maine uses a “winner take all” system. While 16% is substantial, it takes more than 33% to carry those states’ electoral votes.
“These are strange times, but history suggests that spoiler is the most likely role a third-party candidate will play in 2020,” said Wason Center Director Quentin Kidd.
The Wason Center conducted 1,001 interviews, including 670 on cell phone and 331 on landline, Feb. 3-17.