Barrwatch: Less Than Meets the Eye?

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I hesitate before posting every poll that shows the Libertarian Party's candidate pulling a huge number. Bob Barr's polling better than Michael Badnarik did at this point in 2004, of course. But I remember seeing Badnarik hit 3 or 4 percent in states like New Mexico and Wisconsin, where he ended up falling below 1 percent. Pollster Mark Blumenthal explains why Barr's high numbers, like Nader's ever-shrinking numbers, overrate third party support.

Why does early support tend to collapse for third-party candidates? One theory is that the lack of perceived viability eventually erodes their support. Voters might truly prefer a Nader or a Barr but ultimately decide that their vote is better used to decide between the major-party candidates.

Another theory says that the apparent support for the also-rans may be an artifact of the question order and structure. By asking about Obama and McCain first, and following with a four-way choice that includes Nader and Barr, some respondents may interpret the second question as an opportunity to offer their second choice.

A third theory suggests that some voters choose a third-party candidate in a poll as a way station for "undecided." Since many voters are torn between the major candidates, and since pollsters do not offer "undecided" as a choice, some respondents may opt for a third-party candidate as a way of avoiding the central question while satisfying the interviewer's demand for an answer.

The Politico's Ben Adler notes that the GOP isn't doing anything to block Barr right now, although state chairs are keeping their gunpowder nearby.

In Alaska, a state with a strong libertarian streak, state GOP Chairman Randy Ruedrich said he hasn't seen any indications of support for Barr and doesn't consider him to be a threat. But Ruedrich didn't rule out challenging Barr's candidate petitions at a later date — a position also taken by New Hampshire's [Chairman Fergus] Cullen.

Editor & Publisher has seen the new Time magazine, which sports a feature on Barr and libertarians.

Nathan Thornburgh observes, "Since 2000, Libertarian candidates have peeled off enough votes from Republican congressional candidates to cost the party races in Washington, Nevada, Montana and, most recently, Louisiana … Now there's the Libertarian Party, which sold a little bit of its hard-line liberty-loving soul in exchange for the most respectable candidate it has ever had: recently converted former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, who's polling nationally near 6% and could conceivably Naderize John McCain in a few key states and help nudge the presidency to Barack Obama."

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign raised $22 million in June, or two-thirds of what John Kerry raised in the same period last year. Obvious conclusion: He's surging ahead! Obama opted out of public financing on June 19. Does anybody think he would have done that if the numbers were bad? Ten days earlier, we heard rumors that he was on track for a $100 million month.

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NEXT: Survey Says: We're Doomed.

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  1. Most of the polls I see this year include undecided as a choice, but still produce decent numbers for Barr.

    Also, isn’t is less likely that the third party candidate is just a placeholder for “none of the above” when there are two third party candidates in these polls? Nader has higher name recognition, so you’d think that the “eh, I don’t want to say McCain or Obama” voter who doesn’t care would go into Nader’s column, not Barr’s.

    I think the author is correct that support for 3PC’s falls as you near the election, because people want their vote to count, or fear the election of the candidate they don’t want and vote for the person who has the best shot to stop them. But this time around, I think it’s possible McCain will continue to fall behind, to the point where the Barr voter has less incentive to switch back to McCain to stop Obama. Once it’s clear that McCain CAN’T stop Obama, you may as well vote your real preference.

  2. Fluffy, that’s what I’m expecting as well: an imminent Obama landslide will cause disaffected liberals and conservatives to vote for Barr because it doesn’t matter.

  3. Do people not realize the statistical insignificance of their vote? I’ll never understand people that rationalize who they vote for with things like “I want to vote for who has the best chance” or “I need to vote for McCain so Obama doesn’t win, even though I like Barr better.” If you genuinely like a 3rd party candidate leading up to the election then you should go ahead and vote for them.

  4. The probability of an individual vote effecting even a close national election are so small one is more likley to be killed on the way to their polling place.

    Individuals who want to express their preference for Barr should vote for him and indicate that in polling. If someone has an additional preference among major cantidates they can give money to both.

  5. Fluffy, that’s what I’m expecting as well: an imminent Obama landslide will cause disaffected liberals and conservatives to vote for Barr because it doesn’t matter.

    *sputter, cougs* An imminent Obama landslide?
    But, but, but … The Surge? is working!

    President Obama with Democratic majorities in both houses are almost a certainty. Let’s just hope they don’t gain a filibuster proof majority in the senate.

  6. President Obama with Democratic majorities in both houses are almost a certainty.

    Dem majorities? Yes.

    President Obama? He’s the odds-on favorite, but its a long way to November, especially for a candidate who turns into a gaffe machine when the teleprompter is off.

    I honestly think the best strategy for Obama is to bunker up, give a few high-profile speeches, and spend all that money on an avalanche of soft-focus ads.

  7. “Since 2000, Libertarian candidates have peeled off enough votes from Republican congressional candidates to cost the party races in Washington, Nevada, Montana and, most recently, Louisiana”

    Can anyone here explain what good any of that has done?

  8. President Obama?

    He’s running neck-and-neck in the electoral college polling, with miniscule changes in three or four swing states the current margin between him and McCain.

    Long way to November, folks.

    And unless you live in the 10 or so states that will still be more or less in play leading up to the election, your vote has about a 0.00000000% chance of mattering, so you might as well vote your conscience.

    McCain will not win DC or Hawaii or Illinois or …

    Obama will not win Utah or Idaho or Texas or …

  9. In 2004, California was a “safe” state for Kerry. The election had already been decided by the media before the polls closed. Yet nearly every Green voter pulled the lever for Kerry! They lost their reputation as an independent third party overnight, by demonstrating their unashamed willingness to carry the Democrat’s water.

  10. I will explain: the Republican Party will be taken over sooner or later by its libertarian-oriented members and these losses by the socons and neocons in 2006 and 2008 are only showing everyone, however slowly, who really needs to be the boss in the party.

    We do better with independents.

    You do make a good point that the pig-headedness of the McCain and even Huckabee types (no more preachers please) is a lot like the Monty Python sequence of the black knight who kept trying to fight after both arms and one leg was cut off by a sword.

    The Neocons (feminist social conservatives who hate men but love war) are like that black knight. After they get both arms and both legs chopped off this November, they will probably still call the libertarians names…but that won’t matter because “think tanks” like the Heritage Foundation will then be intellectually bankrupt and the libertarians are just going to take over the Republican Party anyway.

    Complicating what I just said, however, is that 24% of Americans are in that socon evangelical bloc that believes that government should run people’s lives in a right wing manner, while only 13% of Americans, according to Rasmussen, would qualify as libertarians.

    That is why Bob Barr was needed to try to bridge the gap.

  11. Brandybuck (and others) have it right. Unless your state is one of the true “swing states”, dammit pull the lever for the person best representing YOU! Here in AK there is a strong (L)libertarian bent but the state has voted Republican in every Presidential race since Goldwater. Why? I’ll never know.

  12. Plus there is just not that much at stake in this election like there was in 2004. In 2004, Al Qaeda literally owned half of Iraq and Bush had cynically held the needed second battle of Fallujah until after the election. Many of us knew we were being manipulated, but we still felt the danger of Al Qaeda was top priority.

    Now we are being manipulated brazenly regarding Iran, the threat of which Bush could have taken care of already but has not because it leaves some conservative males thinking they still have to vote Republican or “the Islamofascists will finally defeat us”.

    Smart people know that Bush will take care of Iran before January if his advisors feel that Obama cannot handle Iran himself.

    So that becomes a non-issue.

    Similarly, abortion and immigration: both are non-issues because nobody really wants to ever solve them as problems.

    Obama would just switch out liberal partisan SC justices who often vote correctly (porn, anonymity on the Internet) but also vote incorrectly (2nd Amendment, upholding feminist laws).

    McCain would tilt the court toward banning porn and making Internet anonymity a thing of the past.

    People are not dumb: they see Obama as NOT bringing change to the Supreme Court and thus a safer vote than McCain who would tilt the court unpredictably to the right.

    McCain would not nominate a libertarian judge or someone with an independent mind like Justice Kennedy.

    For many voters, as long as Justice Anthony Kennedy remains the swing vote, the Supreme Court will not really be affected by this election.

  13. The conditions are better for Bob Barr than for any other LP candidate in history.

    Conservatives of various sorts are ticked off at the GOP, and ticked off specifically over transgressions that are also violations of libertarian principles, like waging an aggressive war, conducting an expensive occupation, overspending…heck, I don’t need to list them here.

    And then, the GOP goes and nominates John McCain.

    I find it entirely plausible that the “what if I hand the election to the Democrat?” issue will actually be a boon for Barr this year. I bet he outperforms Nader 2000.

  14. The polls in this election have been very weird in the primary, and continue to be strange in the general.

    Depending on the poll, McCain is either way behind or nearly tied. The Dems are talking about taking Montana and North Dakota, but Pennsylvania and Michigan are toss-ups. What the hell is going on?

  15. The polls in this election have been very weird in the primary, and continue to be strange in the general.

    Depending on the poll, McCain is either way behind or nearly tied. The Dems are talking about taking Montana and North Dakota, but Pennsylvania and Michigan are toss-ups. What the hell is going on?

    Realignment, or shadowy conspiracy?

    My personal theory is judicious use of crazy purple knock-out gas.

  16. NNG,

    What’s going on is that you are consulting single polls, instead of poll aggregators. Individual polls are subject to all sorts of weirdness, and individual pollsters can use all sorts of weird techniques.

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com

    http://www.pollster.com

    http://www.pollingreport.com

  17. I already look at many polls, and thats the thing. In 2004, and 2000, the polls were remarkably all alike–usually within three points of eachother. Now, they are all over the place.

    Also, they were never so far off in the primaries in both those years. I don’t remember any New Hampshires or Indianas in 2004.

  18. It is still 4 months until we vote. By then Barr should easily be polling at 10%-12%. If he gets 2-3 million votes this election the American voters will know from here out that there is a REAL choice in political parties.

    It scares the hell out of the neo-conservatives. And they must continue to marginalize Barr and the libertarian views, just as they did Ron Paul a year ago.

  19. Now, they are all over the place.

    Far-fetched, but coherent theory:

    Everyone has suddenly read Heinlein, and agreed with his argument that futzing with data collectors is a god-damned patriotic duty. That might also explain the numbers.

    Not likely, I know. but neither are any of the other explanations. Except for the knockout gas.

  20. The mention of Ron Paul above reminds me to vent about something:

    I find it amusing that Lew Rockwell.com can’t mention Barr in any context without referring back to Ron Paul in some way. I just read a ridiculous article about how Barr would be polling better than 10% in New Hampshire if he “adopted more of Ron Paul’s platform.” What an idiotic statement. We’re talking about New Hampshire — the libertarian enclave where RP couldn’t place better than 4th in an open primary. what, exactly, would Barr gain from associating with that failed campaign?

    I respect Paul very much, but Lew Rockwell and all the brainwashed minions realize they missed their chance at having their hand puppet in the White House and want to find a way to give praise to any other libertarian who ever accomplishes anything — because, you know, you never could have done it without Ron Paul and all of his Lew Rockwell-inspired lunatic fringe baggage.

  21. Search Libertarian on the Zogby site and you will see that Badnarik was polled in 2004 and Browne was polled in 2000. By far, most of the results for each candidate were well below 1%. However, Bardnarik had one result of 1.2% and Browne went as high as 1.7%.

    (Weigle heard that Badnarik was 4% in New Mexico? Well, I did hear the same, but perhaps a little research is in order.)

    Barr’s polling is much better than Badnarik and Browne. His lows (2%) are better than their highs. The “lows” for Badnarik and Browne were “-“.

  22. Bob Barr’s challenge isn’t going to be pulling the real conservatives it’s going to be actually appealing to libertarians.

    He’s not my favorite candidate but he’s clearly holds views most like mine.

    If he can get all the libertarians to vote for him too he’ll exceed 10%.

  23. NNG, Elemenope,

    I think we have access to a lot more polls this time than four and eight years ago; and further, that most of the new polling outfits that we weren’t reading about then are crappy.

  24. One reason to vote Barr:

    Depending on your state, a certain level of votes in a general election guarantees ballot access for the party in the next election. A vote for Barr is a vote for keeping the Libertarian Party from falling victim to the Demoblican ballot access mafia.

  25. joe | July 10, 2008, 7:16pm | #
    The conditions are better for Bob Barr than for any other LP candidate in history.

    Conservatives of various sorts are ticked off at the GOP, and ticked off specifically over transgressions that are also violations of libertarian principles, like waging an aggressive war, conducting an expensive occupation, overspending…heck, I don’t need to list them here.

    And then, the GOP goes and nominates John McCain.

    I find it entirely plausible that the “what if I hand the election to the Democrat?” issue will actually be a boon for Barr this year. I bet he outperforms Nader 2000.

    GOD, I hope you are right Joe.

    I mean, I think I am accurately described somewhere in there. But there ain’t many me’s.

  26. It’s a bad idea to get your horserace numbers from partisan sources, prolefeed.

    realclearpolitcs has Obama ahead 238-168 in EVs. When close states are assigned, his lead increases to 304-234.

    Electoral-vote.com has Obama up 320-215, with 3 tied.

    Rasmussen: Obama 210, McCain 168 votes. When leaners are included, Obama leads 293-227.

  27. the Republican Party will be taken over sooner or later by its libertarian-oriented members and these losses by the socons and neocons in 2006 and 2008 are only showing everyone, however slowly, who really needs to be the boss in the party.

    “Sooner or later” always comes, so that’s meaningless. The question is, what reason have you to believe the clause after the “and”? Why does “taking away” a tiny bit of a much larger vote demonstrate that those who got the tiny bit need to be the boss? Logically, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

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