A new poll released this morning by POLITICO shows that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz might disrupt the 2020 race for president if he decides to run as an independent candidate. The poll gives credibility to the opinion of many Democrats who have been saying that a Schultz candidacy could help re-elect Donald Trump as president.
The major finding of the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll is that Democratic voters are more open to supporting third-party candidates than Republicans. Which means that someone like Schultz would likely siphon more votes from a Democratic presidential candidate than from a Republican candidate.
Given that in recent elections the margins of victory — especially for Republican presidents — have been very thin, taking away even a small number of votes from Democrats could assure a Republican victory.
The poll for the first time provides statistical evidence supporting the conclusion that an independent candidate may greatly increase Donald Trump’s chances of winning the presidency again in 2020.
Just 26 percent of poll participants who approve of Trump’s job performance are “very or somewhat likely” to consider a third-party candidate such as Schultz.
But among those who do NOT approve of Trump, and are most likely to vote against him in 2020, fully 41 percent say they are “very or somewhat likely” to consider a third-party candidate.
And that’s where the problem lies for Democrats. If the anti-Trump vote is split among different candidates then Trump’s core base of voters may provide enough of a plurality for him to win again.
When broken down by party, 31 percent of Democrats say they would consider a third-party candidate while just 25 percent of Republicans say they would.
Independents (49 percent are very or somewhat likely to consider an independent candidate) and self-described moderates (42 percent) are also more likely to consider voting for a candidate outside of the two major parties. Younger voters are more likely to vote third party than older voters.
The poll also shows that voters most likely to vote for an independent candidate are not necessarily moderates, which Schultz has maintained.
According to Dan Schnur, a strategist for the late Sen. John McCain:
“There’s a common misperception that independents are moderate. Most independents aren’t any more centrist than traditional partisans. Rather, they’ve made the decision to switch because of a hostility or disdain for the way politics is practiced.”
Schultz has said that he “will run as a centrist independent outside of the two-party system.” He believes that he will appeal to those who don’t identify with either party. Experts, however, say a down-the-middle moderate candidate is unlikely to win much support from independent voters.
Yanna Krupnikov, a professor and author of “Independent Politics: How American Disdain for Parties Leads to Political Inaction,” said “We found no evidence that independents are any more moderate than the people who call themselves partisans.”
But Schultz could still play a role in deciding the winner in 2020, even if he has no chance of winning himself. According to a POLITICO analysis, an independent candidate is most likely to swing the outcome in states such as Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and New Mexico, all of which are likely necessary for a Democratic presidential candidate to win.
So Democrats are right to panic about a possible Schultz candidacy in 2020. And we can expect to see them exert a lot of energy over the next several months to try to convince the billionaire former CEO not to run for president.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.