PRINCETON, NJ -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to mull over the possibility of running for president as an independent candidate, much as fellow billionaire Ross Perot did in 1992. Last week, Bloomberg said, "I am not a candidate." But speculation that he might jump into the presidential race continues unabated, in part because his personal wealth would make it easy for him to begin a campaign without the usual rounds of fund raising, and in part because he refuses to rule out the possibility and expresses obvious interest in running.
There has been much discussion this year about the American public's desire for "change," at a time when the significant majority of Americans indicate that they are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States today, and when there is growing concern about the economy. At the same time, change after this year's election is inevitable, given that the incumbent president and vice president are not running for re-election.
Additionally, recent Gallup polling has assessed some of the public's attitudes that could be related to the ultimate success of an independent or third-party candidate running against the two major-party candidates this year. The data show that Americans are quite positive about the candidates running for president so far, and believe they have suggested good solutions to the nation's problems, marking a sharp contrast with what these same measures showed in early 1992. Thus, while dissatisfaction in general is high, the American public does not appear to believe it is important or necessary for an independent candidate outside of the traditional two major parties to step into the race in order to save the nation.
Is There a Candidate Running Who Will Make a Good President?
One key finding comes from an analysis of the responses to the question, "Is there any candidate running this year that you think would make a good president, or not?"
The most interesting comparison here is between the responses to this question in 1992 and this year's responses. More than twice as many Americans this year say there is a candidate they think would make a good president as said so in January 1992.
In terms of the political environment, there are, of course, a number of differences between the two years to explain the large gap. In early January 1992, an incumbent Republican president with low job approval ratings (George H.W. Bush) was seeking re-election, while no nationally known candidate was running on the Democratic side. Bill Clinton emerged as the front-runner and eventual nominee once the primary season began, which it had not at the time of the Jan. 6-9, 1992, poll. This year, there is an open race in both major parties, high-profile and well-liked candidates are running in each party, there has been active campaigning for over a year, and the primary season began particularly early.
Still, whatever the reasons, voters are much more enthusiastic about the "cast of characters" running this year than was the case in January 1992, which suggests that voters' desire for a third-party candidate to enter the race is considerably weaker now than it was 16 years ago.
Talking About Issues You Care About?
Another question in Gallup's Jan. 10-13 poll asked Americans whether the presidential candidates are talking about issues they really care about.
The 72% who say "yes" is higher than the figures at comparable points in 2000 (54%) and 1992 (60%). In fact, the percentage saying "yes" this year is almost as high as it has been in October of previous election years -- a time when positive responses to these types of questions usually rise.
Have Candidates Come Up With Good Ideas for Solving the Country's Problems?
Almost 6 out of 10 Americans say the presidential candidates have come up with good ideas for solving the country's problems.
On a comparative basis, again, this is twice as high as the comparable measure taken in January 1992, and one of the highest Gallup has ever measured at any point during an election year.
There is no way of judging precisely at this point the impact or potential success of a third-party or independent candidate, were he or she to jump into the race. Much will depend on how the remainder of the primary campaign plays out, who the eventual major-party nominees are, and what the state of the nation is by later this spring or into the summer.
When Perot jumped into the campaign in the spring of 1992, he moved to the top of the national horse-race polls, pulling in more potential voters than either President Bush or Clinton. Perot later left the race and then re-entered it, creating a highly unusual set of campaign dynamics, but ended up gaining 19% of the 1992 popular presidential vote.
The data reviewed above suggest that the environment would not be nearly as propitious this year as it was for Perot that year. It is true that Americans are broadly dissatisfied this year with both the state of the nation and the economy, as they were in 1992. But Americans at this juncture seem much more willing to say that the current crop of candidates running in the major parties have discussed good solutions to the nation's problems and, as a result, there is a high level of satisfaction with those currently running. Thus, were Bloomberg to jump into the race, his first job would be to convince voters that he would bring to the table something that the major party candidates have not.
These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 2,010 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 10-13, 2008. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±2 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.