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December 21, 1999 Contact: Eric Anderson (617) 495-8269

Many Americans Want Third-Party Choice, No Matter Who The Nominees Are

Voter Involvement Index Full Questionnaire

Does it matter who wins the Democratic or Republican nomination? Not in terms of Americans' desire for a third-party candidate in the 2000 campaign.

  Satisfied With Two-Party Race?

Source: Shorenstein Center Poll.
Sampling error: ±6%

The weekly Shorenstein Center national poll asked Americans whether they would want a third-party candidate to run in the context of hypothetical races between the leading Democratic and Republican contenders. The pairings made virtually no difference. Faced with a possible Bush-Gore campaign, 45% said they would want a third-party candidate to run. When asked about a Bush-Bradley race, 47% expressed a desire for a third-party candidate. "That so many Americans say they would want a third-party candidate is hardly a vote of confidence in the two-party system, or the candidates it produces," says Marvin Kalb, co-director of the Vanishing Voter Project, of which the weekly poll is a component.

A surprising finding of the poll was that a possible race between Bill Bradley and John McCain, who are sometimes portrayed as "outsiders" within their respective parties, does not defuse the public's desire for a third-party alternative. Faced with such a contest, 43% said they would also want to have a third-party alternative, nearly the same proportion as expressed that preference if McCain and Gore were the nominees.

"These results do not mean that more than 40% of Americans today would vote for a third-party candidate for president," says Thomas Patterson, project co-director and Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at Harvard. "But they do indicate the public's general dissatisfaction with the major parties."

Americans favor a revitalized party system. Only 23% agreed that "the two-party system works fairly well." A much larger number claimed either that "the two-party system is seriously broken and the country needs a third party" (28%) or that "the two-party system has real problems but with improvement can still work well" (39%).

  Voter Involvement Index
December 1519 20%
December 812 21%
December 15 21%
November 2328 16%
November 1923 17%
November 1014 23%
Source: Shorenstein Center Poll
Sampling error: ±3%

These opinions are not shared equally by all groups. Young people, for example, are more likely than older people to reject the existing party system. Nevertheless, there was no major demographic group where more than 35% claimed that "the two-party system works fairly well."


The survey results reported here are from a nationwide telephone survey of 1,010 adults conducted December 15-19, 1999. The poll has a sampling error of ±3%. The Vanishing Voter Project is a study by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Funding for the project is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project is co-directed by Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government & the Press at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard, and by Marvin Kalb, Executive Director of the Shorenstein Center's office in Washington.

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