Barrwatch: Less Than Meets the Eye?


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.