Since launching his independent campaign for the presidency early this year, Ralph Nader has constantly argued that he will draw as many or more votes from Republican George W. Bush as from John Kerry, the President’s Democratic challenger.
Yet, as Election Day approaches, it appears that Nader’s calculus is off.
If Nader was not on the ballot in key battleground states, according to a new poll conducted for The Nation Institute, three times as many of his backers in battleground states would vote for Kerry as for Bush.
That’s a far cry from the picture Nader has been painting as he has continued to campaign in pivotal states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio. In late September, in an interview with The Nation, Nader said, “You are going to be surprised at the number of Republicans who back our campaign. We are going to help beat Bush in a number of these states.”
But the results of the first serious battleground-state survey of Nader backers and potential supporters suggests that the reality on November 2 could be very different than the three-time presidential candidate predicts.
Were Nader not in the running, 49 percent of those surveyed said they would switch to Kerry, according to the poll by Lake Snell Perry & Associates, a firm that frequently works for Democrats and public-interest groups. Only 17 percent indicated a preference for Bush. Another 24 percent said they were unsure what they would do, while 10 percent indicated that they would not vote.
The poll results call into question many of the assumptions on which the Nader campaign has been mounted. In addition to discrediting the claim that Nader would draw votes in comparable numbers from both major-party nominees, the survey raises serious doubts about whether the independent candidate will actually draw to the polls citizens who might otherwise avoid voting.
For instance, the survey appears to discredit the claim, advanced by Nader and many in the media, that his campaign is a magnet for young people who are disgusted with the failure of Kerry to take a stronger stand against the war in Iraq or corporate power. Only six percent of Nader’s likely backers identified themselves as first-time voters.
National and battleground state polls in recent days have found that Nader is drawing under 2 percent support from the overall electorate. According to a new poll conducted for the Democratic National Committee, support for Nader in a dozen battleground states has fallen from 3 percent last summer to only 1.5 percent now. But that 1.5 percent could still matter a great deal. With the Kerry-Bush race as tight as ever, Democrats and progressive activists continue to express concern that the few votes that go to Nader could tip important battleground states to Bush. They could well be right. In at least seven battleground states–Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Maine and New Hampshire–the Washington Post suggested in an article published Friday “Nader’s share of the vote exceeds the thin margin separating Bush and Kerry.”
Remember that a number of states–including Florida, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Iowa–were decided for the Republican in 2000 by margins of significantly less than 1 percent. In 2000, Democrats argue, Nader drew substantially more votes than Bush’s margin of victory in New Hampshire and in the disputed contest in Florida. Had either of those states gone for Al Gore, the Democrat would have assumed the presidency. A new television commercial, produced by the Democratic Action Team and airing in battleground states, recalls the 2000 results and cries, “Ralph, don’t do this to us again.”