21 - 5/18/16
The title of this post does not refer to the casino card game, the old age of majority or even the last uncompleted work in Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey series of Age of Sail novels. It refers instead to identical results in two public opinion polls regarding the prospective Trump-Clinton Presidential contest.
One poll is limited to the purple state of New Hampshire taken by WBUR. In a two-way contest, between the two, Clinton leads Trump by two points, 44 to 42 percent. However, in a three-way race, featuring 2012 GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney running as an independent, Clinton still wins over Trump 37-33, but Romney receives 21 percent of the vote. This does seem to suggest that the reports of the dissatisfaction of many voters with the two prospective Presidential nominees are correct.
Even more interesting is that one would assume that a Romney candidacy would siphon off mainly Republican votes from Trump. However, while Trump loses 9% of the vote he received in the two-way matchup, Clinton loses 7% or almost as many. Apparently a substantial number of normally GOP voters found even the despised Hillary a preferable choice to a bizarre party nominee like the Donald, but are prepared to change their minds when presented with a more conventional Republican choice.
The second poll of a three-way race taken by the Data Targeting firm in mid-May of the national electorate posts results remarkably similar to that of the New Hampshire results, that of a very close race between the two prospective nominees, but will possibilities for a strong showing by an independent alternative. This poll shows Trump leading Clinton 34 to 31 and the same figure of 21 percent for a hypothetical and unnamed third party candidate.
21 percent is a substantial figure for a third party candidate in recent Presidential elections. It is more than twice what John Anderson received in 1980, more than half again the percentage of the popular vote that George Wallace received in 1968 and slightly more than Ross Perot won in 1992. It would be in fact the biggest vote share received by a third party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" or Progressive Party received 27% of the vote in 1912 and relegated the official GOP party candidate, President William Howard Taft to third place in the popular vote tally.
True, it is well known that third party candidacies have a tendency to fade in the last days of an election, when members of the electorate, fearful of "wasting" their vote, make a last minute decision to go with a candidate of the two major parties. However, it is also true that never before have we had a Republican and Democrat candidate who were viewed so unfavorably by(in both cases) majorities of the electorate. So at the least, these poll results, if accurate, do appear to suggest that there is a potential for a competitive third party candidacy in the 2016 election.
Indeed, I might suggest that it is possible that the fall contest might see two major independent candidacies for the first time since 1860, when we had the Republican Abe Lincoln running, along with two Democrats, northerner Stephen Douglas and southern favorite John Breckinridge, and compromise Constitutional Union Party nominee John Bell. In that year, all four of these candidates received more than 10% of the popular vote and all four won the electoral votes of at least several states, with Lincoln winning with the smallest percentage of the popular vote total (less than 40%) of any candidate elected directly by the people. (Yes, I know, in 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected President while winning only 32% of the popular vote, but he was ultimately elected by the U.S. House of Representatives when the electoral college failed to produce a winner.)
If the Democrat convention this year proves as contentious as that of 1860, we might well see Bernie Sanders running as a fourth party candidate, perhaps as the nominee of a "Progressive Democrat" party. If that happens, there is a possibility than any of the four could gain the White House this year and that the truly remarkable events of this election year are ahead and not behind us.