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April 28, 2006

An "Immigration-Enforcement" Third Party?

Yesterday, our friend Mickey Kaus highlighted a question from a recent Rasmussen automated survey worth examining a bit more closely.  The question asks voters to choose between "generic" Republican and Democratic candidates (with no stated immigration position) and a third party candidate that takes a hard-line anti-immigration position.  The third-party candidate gets 30% of the vote, leading both Rasmussen and Kaus to speculate about the potential power of immigration to reshape our politics.  Let me suggest an alternative:  It may simply confirm the desire for a third party (at least in theory) by a large number of Americans regardless of the issues involved.   

Courtesy of Scott Rasmussen, here is the full text of the two questions at issue (and remember that Rasmussen currently weights his survey a few points more Republican than other national samples of adults):

If the 2008 Presidential Election were held today, would you vote for the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate?        
44% Democrat        
32% Republican        
7% Other        
17% Not sure

Suppose a third party candidate ran in 2008 and promised to build a barrier along the Mexican border and make enforcement of immigration law his top priority.  Would you vote for the Republican, the Democrat, or the third party candidate?
31% Democrat
21% Republican
30% Third party/other
18% Not sure

On his web site, Scott Rasmussen concludes:

This result probably reflects unhappiness with both parties on the immigration issue rather than a true opportunity for a third party. Historically, issues that drive third party candidates get co-opted by one of the major parties as they demonstrate popular appeal

Blogging at RealClearPolitics, he adds that the result "be taken as an indication of the [immigration] issue's power rather than a literal projection of election outcomes." 

Fair enough.  And while there is good evidence elsewhere (especially here) that the immigration issue produces more division within the two political parties than between them, let me suggest another reason to be careful about reading too much into this particular question.  It may tell us as much about the strong general desire for a third party candidate as it does about the power of the immigration issue specifically.   

Consider this result from the just released NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which shows 45% favor the idea of a "new independent political party" and 29% oppose:

Tell me whether you would strongly favor, mildly favor, feel neutral about, mildly oppose, or strongly oppose this change:  Build a new independent political party to run a credible candidate for president.
31% strongly favor
14% mildly favor
24% feel neutral
12% mildly oppose
17% strongly oppose 
2% not sure

Or consider these questions asked by Gallup survey in 2003:

In your view, do the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job of representing the American people, or do they do such a poor job that a third major party is needed? (10/10-12/2003, n=1,004)
56% Do an adequate job
40% Third party needed
4% Don't know/refused

Have you ever voted for an independent or a third party candidate for president, that is, a candidate for president who was not either a Republican or a Democrat? (9/19-21/2003, n=1,003)
28% Yes, have
71% No, have not
1% Don't know/refused

It is also worth expanding on one of Kaus' caveats:  "Candidates with appealing specifics often beat undefined, generic party choices."  That is true, in that questions that inform respondents about the specific issue positions of specific named candidates typically get more of a response (e.g. fewer undecideds) than questions posing only "generic" choices.  However, Rasmussen's question is a bit unusual in that it includes both types of choices on the same question.  To be honest, I have not seen that done before and am not quite sure what to make of the result. 

Again, I do not want to minimize the potential for the immigration issue to divide the bases of both parties, particularly the conservative Republican base.   And Rasmussen reports that his hypothetical tough-on-immigration third party candidate divides self-identified conservatives, getting 35% to the generic Republican's 36%, while liberals still overwhelming prefer the Democrat (65%) to the third party candidate (19%).**  That result is worth pondering, even though, as Rasmussen appropriately warns, we should not consider it "a literal projection of election outcomes."

**Although note that self-identified conservatives outnumber liberals in Rasmussen's sample by roughly two to one (34% to 17%).

Related Entries - Immigration, Polls in the News, The 2006 Race

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on April 28, 2006 at 02:03 PM in Immigration, Polls in the News, The 2006 Race | Permalink


Is there any data on what kind of third party people are looking at? i.e., is this evenly distributed (some wanting a Nader, some a Buchanan, and some a centrist) or do they lean one way or another?

Posted by: Luis | Apr 29, 2006 12:49:23 AM

The other reason why choosing between a Republican with no positions stated, a Democrat with no positions stated, and a third party candidate with a defined position is that people like that defined position.

Try the question again giving the R and 3rd party no positions and a Democrat who is strong on the issue and I'll be it changes.

Posted by: NAR | May 1, 2006 11:33:07 AM

Once you get outside the culture war issues, the two parties' ideological divide does not map seamlessly to pro-free market vs pro-gov't intervention. How many working- and middle-income Repubs really would resist single-payer health insurance? How many working- and middle-income Dems really would oppose a fence on the border? Less than a majority in both cases, I'm sure.

I believe an overwhelmingly popular platform would be a hybrid model that delivers some real economic security, immediately, to working-class and middle-class-but-vulnerable American families by combining more govt intervention where it makes sense (single-payer and restricting low-wage Mexican immigration) with more market choice where it makes sense (universal school vouchers). Universal health care + immigration reform + school vouchers would peel off at least one-quarter of each parties' reliable voters, perhaps one-third of independents, and a not insignificant number of that low-income population that accounts for ~20% of registered voters and that are so alienated from the process that they rarely vote at all.

Who's blocking this platform? The teachers' union and the big business/free-market zealots who dominate the two parties' bases. How to get around them? Set up a third party, and keep the agenda laser-like in its focus on these three bedrock proposals that can materially reduce American working families' economic insecurity.

Posted by: thibaud | May 8, 2006 1:34:18 PM

How do we go about doing it???

Posted by: sandra rosenthal | May 17, 2006 9:44:09 AM

Immigration enforcement efforts actually have become more lax since the September 11 attacks and have had "no meaningful impact" on the growing number of immigrants now in the United States — which has reached a record high of 34 million, according to a report released yesterday.
A 13 percent increase of U.S. immigrants, more than 4 million, since 2000 included more than 2 million illegal aliens, who now total about 10 million or 30 percent of the immigrant population, the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), said in its report, based on as-yet-unpublished U.S. Census Bureau data.

Posted by: Gerard Kennedy - Critical thinking | Dec 13, 2006 4:27:46 AM

Serious criminal charges once typically reserved for drug traffickers and organized-crime figures are increasingly being used to target businesses that employ illegal immigrants, a strategy highlighted last week when three Maryland restaurateurs pleaded guilty to federal offenses and agreed to forfeit more than $1 million in cash and property.

The little-publicized approach, which can include charging such employers with money laundering and seizing their assets, amounts to a strategic shift in the enforcement of immigration law in the workplace.

Posted by: Thomas Cooper | Jan 18, 2007 3:24:51 PM

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