U.S. registered voters show limited support for third-party candidates this year, with the vast majority preferring Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. A June 7-10 Gallup poll asked a special presidential preference question, listing three third-party candidates in addition to Obama and Romney. Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is the choice of 3% of registered voters and Green Party candidate Jill Stein the choice of 1%. Another 2% volunteer Ron Paul’s name and 1% mention someone other than the listed candidates.
Gallup periodically asks a vote preference question during presidential election years, in which interviewers read the names of all candidates who will appear on the ballot in a large number of states, as one way of measuring third-party support. These findings reflect Gallup’s first such measurement in 2012. The resulting data suggest 5% of U.S. voters could vote for a third-party candidate this year, which could rise if Paul changes course and runs as an independent.
The standard presidential preference question included in Gallup Daily tracking mentions only Obama and Romney by name and finds a consistent 1% volunteering the name of some other candidate as their choice for president. The 1% is in line with the vote for third-party candidates in recent presidential elections when no high-profile third-party candidate (like Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, and Ralph Nader in 2000) ran.
Prominent third-party candidates have tended to receive significantly higher support in polls taken earlier in election years than they wind up getting on Election Day. This is based on a comparison of registered voter preferences in June with the final election vote share in years when higher-profile third-party candidates were included in Gallup’s presidential preference questions. In general, the candidates wound up getting a fraction of their June estimated support — in most cases, less than half.
The drop in support during the campaign is likely due to two factors. First, historically, third-party candidates’ support typically drops as the campaign approaches Election Day, perhaps because voters realize the candidates have little chance to win. Second, generally speaking, support for third-party candidates tends to be higher in the broader pool of registered voters than in the smaller group of actual voters.
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