PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are divided as to whether a third major party is needed in U.S. politics today, after having given majority support to the concept in 2011 and 2010. Americans' views today are remarkably similar to what they were in September 2008, before that year's presidential election.
Gallup has asked Americans nine times over the last decade if they think the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job of representing the American people, or if they do such a poor job that a third major party is needed.
Support for a third party has varied substantially since Gallup first asked this question in 2003. It was highest in 2007 and 2010, at 58%. In between those peaks, however, support dropped to less than the majority level two months before the 2008 election, as it has in the current survey, conducted Sept. 6-9 -- two months before this year's election. Thus, it may be that in election years -- particularly shortly after the parties' conventions, as was the case for the 2008 and the 2012 surveys -- Americans look more favorably upon the two dominant political parties.
As would be expected, Americans who have the weakest ties to either of the two major parties -- independents -- are consistently more likely to favor having a third party. The current 58% support level among independents, however, is the second lowest on record.
Republicans' and Democrats' support for a third party has fluctuated over the past nine years, but the two groups now have similar views, as they did a year ago. Now, 40% of Democrats support the concept of a third party, compared with 36% of Republicans.
Minimal Support for Third-Party Candidates in the 2012 Election
Although 46% of Americans support the idea of a third party, there is little apparent support for the third-party candidates who are now running for president.
In the current survey, Gallup tested the support for three third-party candidates identified by name and party -- Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party), Jill Stein (Green Party), and Virgil Goode (Constitution Party) -- and found 1% support for each, with another 1% volunteering another third-party candidate's name.
This is slightly lower support for these candidates than Gallup found in June, when a combined total of less than 5% supported Johnson, Stein, and Goode, with another 3% volunteering the names of other possible third-party candidates. This is an expected pattern because third-party candidate support, as has occurred this year, usually diminishes over the course of the campaign.
In recent decades, the only third-party candidate to receive more than 15% of the vote was Ross Perot, who got 19% in the 1992 election. Gallup's June analysis showed that third-party candidates almost always receive a lower share of the actual vote on Election Day than they do in preference polls when they are included in the list of candidates read to survey respondents.
Americans generally tend to support the idea that a third major party is needed on the American political scene, although such support today, at 46%, is lower than it has been over the past two years, perhaps because the poll was conducted in a presidential election year, shortly after the Republican and Democratic conventions. Despite Americans' attitudes, no third-party candidate who garners a significant level of support has emerged. The vast majority of votes in this year's Nov. 6 presidential election, it follows, are likely to be cast for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 6-9, 2012, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.