- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Voters, unenthusiastic about a Trump versus Biden rematch in 2024, are increasingly open to dumping the Republican and Democratic tickets entirely for an independent candidate.

Two recent polls show a majority of Republican, Democratic and independent voters would consider a “moderate independent candidate” if President Biden and former President Donald Trump run again. 

“Our observed aversion to the former and current president as voters begin thinking about 2024 tickets is a major opening for an independent presidential ticket,” said Mark Penn, chairman of the Harvard-CAPS/Harris Poll, which conducted the two surveys. 

The poll of registered voters, taken at the end of June, found that 60% would consider an independent candidate in 2024 if Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are their respective parties’ nominees. 

Among Democrats, the number rose to 64%, while 53% of Republicans said they would weigh an independent candidate. Among independent and other unaffiliated voters, the number willing to give an independent candidate a close look shot up to 66%.

The same poll in April found that 58% of registered voters would weigh an independent in 2024, showing that the level of dissatisfaction with Mr. Biden, 79, and Mr. Trump, 76, has increased. 

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“Every so often, there’s a presidential election year that provides an independent candidate some real traction,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “The year 2024 could be ripe for a populist independent contrasting with two [major] party nominees, generally viewed as old news.”

Independent presidential candidates are hardly new, but they rarely make a dent in the final election outcome.

Most recently, Evan McMullin launched an independent campaign in a bid to draw Republican voters away from Mr. Trump and prevent him from winning in 2016. Mr. McMullin picked up only 0.05% of the vote nationwide and no votes from the Electoral College, although he captured more than 20% of the presidential election vote in Utah.

Mr. McMullin is now running as an independent for the U.S. Senate.

Ralph Nader, while not officially an independent candidate, would have been a blip in the 2000 presidential election in his bid under the Green Party banner. Mr. Nader won less than 3% of the vote that year but drew support away from Democrat Al Gore in Florida. That helped secure a win for George W. Bush after a heavily disputed outcome that centered on flaws in Florida’s paper election ballots and a statewide recount.

The last independent candidate to have a major impact on a presidential election was billionaire businessman Ross Perot, who received nearly 19% of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election, though he won no electoral votes despite being on the ballot in all 50 states.

John Anderson, a former House Republican leader, ran as an independent against President Carter and Republican nominee Ronald Reagan in 1980 and won 6.6% of the vote.

“In 1980, it was John Anderson who was the choice of many voters fed up with hyperinflation and Jimmy Carter but afraid to vote for Ronald Reagan, who many feared was a warmonger,” Mr. Paleologos said. “In 1992, the independent was Ross Perot, who was the choice of many not trusting Bill Clinton nor inspired by George Bush Sr. Somewhere in between were many others that had a minor impact, save Ralph Nader in 2000, and those hanging chads in the Sunshine State.”

Voters are becoming increasingly unhappy with the idea of a rematch between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump. 

A Monmouth University poll released this week showed Mr. Biden’s approval rating had sunk to a new low of 36% and was a particularly dismal 29% among the key independent voting bloc. 

Voters are concerned about inflation and high gas prices and are increasingly questioning Mr. Biden’s competency and leadership as the oldest person in history to serve as U.S. president.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll this year found that 54% of adults did not believe Mr. Biden had the “mental sharpness” it takes to serve effectively as president, an increase of 11 points since late May 2020. 

Among critical independents, the number was 59%, an increase of 13 points over the same period.

Mr. Trump has his own set of problems. Prospective voters say he divides the country and behaves erratically. 

Polls consistently show Mr. Trump’s approval ratings underwater. 

An Economist/YouGov poll of adults in late June found Mr. Trump was viewed unfavorably by 58% and favorably by 40%. A poll of registered voters taken around the same time by Politico and Morning Consult found that respondents viewed Mr. Trump unfavorably by 56% to 42%.

The Harvard-CAPS/Harris poll found that 61% of voters do not want Mr. Trump to run for president again, with 36% calling the former president “erratic” and 33% concerned that he would divide America.

Mr. Biden should stay off the 2024 ballot, too, said 71% of respondents in the poll. Among those who do not want Mr. Biden to run again, 45% said he is “a bad president” and 30% said he is too old for a second term.

Political analysts say an independent candidate can win over voters tired of Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, but only if they are not tied to the Republican or Democratic base. Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, a socialist who has run twice for president as a Democrat, would be too far to the left to capture a broad group of voters. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, would be too conservative, according to political analysts.

From this viewpoint, political moderates such as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan or former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, now a U.S. senator, who governed more from the middle, would have broader appeal among general election voters looking for a choice outside the party nominees in 2024.

“If it’s a Biden versus Trump race, there is a clear opening for an independent candidate,” nonpartisan political analyst and pollster Ron Faucheux said. “Most voters want neither Biden nor Trump. It’s a good time for a new face who is not tied to the partisan past.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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