From the start of his independent campaign for the presidency early this year, Ralph Nader constantly argued that he would draw as many or more votes from Republican George W. Bush as from John Kerry, the President’s Democratic challenger. Yet Nader’s calculus looks to be off. If Nader were not on the ballot in key battleground states, according to a poll conducted for The Nation Institute, nearly three times as many of his backers in those states would vote for Kerry as for Bush: some 49 percent of those surveyed said they would switch to Kerry, compared with 17 percent for Bush. According to the poll, conducted by Lake Snell Perry & Associates, 24 percent said they were unsure what they would do, while 10 percent indicated that they would not vote.

In response to the poll findings, Nader continued to insist a few days before the election that he would draw more votes from Republicans than Democrats. But Democrats and progressive activists expressed concern that a small number of votes for Nader could tip important battleground states to Bush. They fear a repeat of 2000, when a number of states were decided for Bush by margins of less than 1 percent. Nader drew more votes than Bush’s margin of victory in New Hampshire and Florida. Had either of those states gone for Al Gore, Nader’s Democratic critics argue, Gore would have become President.

In the survey of 500 registered voters who said they backed Nader or might consider voting for him in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wisconsin, the pollsters found that Nader backers tended to have high regard for the consumer advocate; they gave him an average rating of 77.4 on a scale of 0 to 100. At the same time, by a 77-to-21 margin, those who said they were voting for Nader rated Bush poorly (full story and poll data available at www.thenation.com). Those numbers led activists who have long sought to get Nader out of the race to argue one last time that the independent’s exit from the competition, even at the last minute, could elect Kerry.

Neither Nader nor his aides offered any indication that they would consider such a strategy, however.