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May 08, 2006

More on Rasmussen, Immigration & Third Parties

Today, thanks to  pollster Scott Rasmussen, we have an update on that hypothetical third-party/immigration question he asked a few weeks ago on one of his automated surveys.  Largely the result of a dialogue on that question involving Mickey Kaus and yours truly, Rasmussen today released new results from a similar hypothetical third-party question, this one involving a third party candidate "promising government-backed universal health care."   This latest result shows that support for such a candidate is nearly as high (28%) as support for a hypothetical third party candidate calling for an "enforcement policy" on immigration (31%).  However, the individuals supporting the respective imaginary candidates were very different.  According to Rasmussen:

While the immigration candidate drew equally from both parties, the Universal Health Care candidate cost the Democratic candidate 18 percentage points while the Republican lost just six.

Thus, Rasmussen presents us with bit more empirical evidence that

Immigration cuts across the typical partisan and ideological lines, [and thus] may have more potential to shake up political status quo than other issues.

So let's give Scott Rasmussen credit for "showing responsiveness to Web commentary rare in a pollster," as Kaus puts it (along with his own thoughts on the meaning of the latest results). 

Let's also point out that the disagreement here between MP, Kaus and Rasmussen is less than meets the eye.   I intended my last post largely to point out that similarly large numbers of Americans have expressed enthusiasm for the notion of a third party without a specific issue attached.  So the level of support for the hypothetical candidates in Rasmussen's questions may be a bit generic, although MP certainly concedes that attitudes on immigration tend to create more division within the party coalitions than between them (as noted in previous posts, the Pew Typology study has remarkably rich data on this point).  MP also agrees with Rasmussen that that the support for third parties on his two questions "probably reflects unhappiness with both parties on particular issues rather than a true opportunity for a third party." 

MP will also concede that in one respect, the immigration issue bears some resemblance to issues that have historically led to the formation of third parties and sometimes even led to party realignment.  Now, I make no pretense of expertise on the history of third party formation and realignments (and I invite those who teach and study it to chime in here with their comments).  However, I once wrote an undergraduate thesis on party realignment, and this discussion reminds me of the theoretical model that Political Scientist James L. Sundquist wrote about in 1973: 

A party system that divides people into two contending political groups on the basis of their attitudes and beliefs about one set of public issues is disturbed by a new issue (or cluster of related issues).  The new issue cleaves the electorate on a different line and hence divides each of the parties internally . . . Either at the outset or as it gathers momentum, the new issue comes to be of such paramount political concern to some proportion of the voters that if it encounters resistance from the parties with which they are affiliated, it overrides all considerations that form the basis of their attachment to those parties.  (From Sundquist, Dynamics of the Party System, pp. 35).

Sundquist theorized that under these conditions, the commitment of the "single issue groups" within each party will override the "centrists" who want to preserve party unity, thus leading to formation of new parties and, possibly, to party realignment. 

I am convinced that immigration policy currently divides both Democrats and Republicans.  I am not convinced that immigration has yet become an issue of as "paramount political concern" as the issues Sundquist wrote about.   

My caution here is that Rasmussen's hypothetical question format has the practical effect of giving such paramount importance to immigration (or universal health care) whether voters feel that way or not.  The structure of the question asks, in effect, what if immigration policy (or some other issue) were the only issue involved in your decision?  Even then, only the imaginary third party candidate gets a clearly identified position (see the comment by "NAR" on my original post).  That's a pretty artificial test. 

Now, MP does not object to such artificial tests.  Campaign pollsters do them all the time.  The trick is to keep the results in perspective.   The more hypothetical and artificial the test, the less likely it is to predict a real outcome. 

It would be a bit less aftificial, for example to test a hypothetical match-up with actual names attached and the positions of all three candidates described.  For example, why not ask about a hypothetical race for president between Hillary Clinton the Democrat, John McCain the Republican and Pat Buchanan running as a third party candidate.  Then read their respective positions on immigration and ask the question again.  Yes, still a bit artificial, but possibly more enlightening.

Related Entries - Immigration, IVR Polls, Measurement Issues

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on May 8, 2006 at 05:48 PM in Immigration, IVR Polls, Measurement Issues | Permalink


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 10:20:29 PM

Note that a third party focused on universal health care + immigration reform would be in a good position to break the Democratic hold on California and the Republican hold on Texas-- and would stand a good chance of winning elections in FL, AZ, CO, NM, MT, NV and the northern purple states of PA, NJ, NH, and perhaps VA and NC as well. Capture 2 of the big three sunbelt states and most of the high-growth sunbelt states + NJ and NH, and you're getting close to 180 electoral college votes. Any takers?

Posted by: thibaud | May 8, 2006 10:25:24 PM

In one of his pieces relating to his immigration poll Rasmussen suggested that a third party candidate may be able to garner votes in the West or southwest. Now Thibaud suggests essentially the same thing.

But I thought the "anti-immigration" (for lack of a better term) sentiment was stronger as a percentage outside of the Southwest? Isn't it possible that such a third party candidate might resonate more in the south than the SW?(http://www.surveyusa.com/50State2005/50StateImmigration0512ByTakeJobs.htm)

Posted by: Jim | May 9, 2006 11:12:17 AM

Jim, two points:

1) immigration alone cannot serve as the basis for a successful national third party (though it could easily cause a realignment in Arizona). The key is to address the main causes of national economic insecurity with a unified but simple platform that includes reducing the threat to working Americans from rock-bottom illegal labor.

2) once the immigration debate is recast in terms of increasing national security-- border security and security of a livable wage for that other half of the labor force that lacks skills-- then I predict that you will see *AFRICAN-AMERICANS* embrace immigration reform.

This sleeping giant is what the Democratic elites and the pollsters are ignoring, and it has the potential to split the Democrats in every northern city and across the South. Imagine if New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and even Michigan were in play. The Democratic candidate would be forced to spend massively in major media markets that are now safely blue. Likewise, the Republican candidate would be forced to spend massively to hang on to Texas and previously safe southern states.

In short, when this nation's political class finally learns to focus on the gnawing insecurity that is the hallmark of American lives, we will see the realignment demanded by these massive national problems.

Posted by: thibaud | May 9, 2006 11:49:14 AM

It's easy to see why a Republican Party that's pro-business (but never pro-market) supports the importation of a huge, semi-literate proletariat and its crushing effect on American wages.

But what boggles the mind is how the *Democratic Party* elites can have ignored a national phenomenon that has cut the legs out from under unskilled African-American males. Imagine the effect the urban black underclass if suddenly a million unskilled jobs offering something like a livable wage were to open up over the next 2 years. The best anti-poverty program available today is a fence along the border.

Then again, doesn't this issue merely reprise the pathetic and shameful inability of our political class to address the health insurance train wreck? Not to mention our national energy debacle, and our extraordinary vulnerability to foreign creditors, and....

A political system dominated by these twin do-nothing, know-nothing parties cannot reform itself. A pox on both your houses. Time for a third party that is laser-focused on attacking and reducing the massive insecurity that haunts American lives.

Posted by: thibaud | May 9, 2006 12:06:22 PM

An anti-immigrant candidate does NOT put Texas in play. Texas is pro-immigration, relative to the rest of the 'base' Republican states. A pro-voucher, pro-UHC, anti-immigration candidate strips, at most, 15-20% in Texas, and much of it from the Democrats. The hypothetical Republican still runs around 50%+.

This candidate strips off Republicans in the midwest and southeast, and Democrats in the midwest. Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois, in that order, are put in play.

Posted by: rvman | May 10, 2006 9:45:27 AM

rvman, could you share your polling data pls? The sense here in Texas is that both parties are vulnerable on immigration. Note that under Bush and Mehlman, the Republicans in recent years have made significant gains among latino voters and that younger latinos in particular are now beginning to return to the Democrats. Likewise, it's not clear to me that the TX Repubs' base among blue-collar exurban white evangelicals would continue to vote Repub when offered school vouchers that could be used for religious schools.

Note also that these exurban voters are very vulnerable to soaring gas prices. When it costs a contractor $100 per week in gas, don't be surprised if he starts looking for another Ross Perot give-em-hell candidate. He won't find such a character in a Republican Party that's utterly dominated by the oil and gas lobby.

Posted by: thibaud | May 11, 2006 10:48:36 AM

Third Party would be smart to play on moderation not stupidity of both sides. Just run it on couple isusses like immigration reform, healthcare, social security, taxes, war, terrorism, goblization. The should be to force out the demoguages on the right, and left. A purple party could be used to expose the radical elements in republican and democratic hehe. What would happen is repubiclains would be forced Ronald Regan era, and Democrats would be forced to era of JFK. Third party could be permament fixture if the extermists keep there views, and the independants vote on a little higher percentage because of the draw. Be like Mexican system, Right, Center, Left. Simple terms, Pro-God and money, Secular, pro-market, or Nannie and anti-business. A B or C ehehe

Posted by: Gizbot | Aug 26, 2006 2:42:17 AM

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