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New Wason Center Poll Finds an Independent on 2020 Ballot Would Tip Election for Trump

Independent candidate likely to split the opposition vote in close states and tip the Electoral College to Trump.

  Monday, February 25, 2019

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.

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 percent to 37 percent, well outside the survey’s +/- 3.2 percent margin of error. But in the three-way race, 16 percent of voters chose the independent, putting Trump (34 percent) and the generic Democrat (32 percent) into a statistical tie.

The key to that dramatic change is the difference in defection rate, as the Democrat loses five voters to the independent candidate for every one Trump loses (16 points vs. three points).

“The Democrats’ visceral reaction to a potential Howard Schultz run doesn’t look like an overreaction,” says Dr. Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. “A five-to-one defection rate is cause for alarm.”

Further analysis revealed that 45 percent of the “defectors” self-identify or lean Democratic, compared with 31 percent Republican and 19 percent independent. Fully 77 percent 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 percent is substantial, it takes more than 33 percent 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,” says Wason Center Director Dr. Quentin Kidd.

The Wason Center conducted 1,001 interviews, including 670 on cell phone and 331 on landline.

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