Source: Pew Research
In considering a possible general election matchup between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney this fall, voters remain about evenly split in their preferences, with 50% saying they would vote for Obama and 45% for Romney.
But a third-party candidacy by current Republican candidate Ron Paul would attract support from nearly one-in-five voters and help Barack Obama’s reelection prospects significantly. In this hypothetical three-candidate race, 44% say they would back Obama, 32% Romney, and 18% Paul.
Not surprisingly, much of the potential support for Paul comes from independent voters. Roughly a quarter of independents who say they would back Obama or Romney in a two-person race say they would switch to Paul if he runs, leaving the independent vote divided almost evenly between Obama (31%), Romney (33%) and Paul (26%). Put in other terms, Obama loses nine percent and Romney 17 percent of independent voters to Ron Paul if he decides to run.
Not only does Romney lose more independent voters to Ron Paul than does Obama, but a Paul third-party candidacy also threatens to steal away some of the conservative Republican vote as well. Fully 96% of conservative Republicans say they would back Mitt Romney in a two-person race against Obama. But that support falls to 77% in a three-person race, with 19% saying they would switch to backing Ron Paul. There is no comparable loss of support for Obama among either liberal or moderate and conservative Democrats.
Given that it is unlikely that Paul will win the Republican presidential nomination, should Democrats feign support for him so that Obama can regain the White House for a second term?