July 22, 1999

Third Party Chances Limited

Introduction and Summary

The prospects for a third party presidential candidate appear dim. Americans are reasonably satisfied with the existing field of candidates for the 2000 presidential election, and overwhelming numbers say they would not consider voting for outsiders Jesse Ventura or Ross Perot.

Three-in-four people say they would be satisfied with a contest between Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, both still well ahead of the competition for their party nominations. Dissatisfaction with the field of major party candidates (35%) is comparable to September 1996. This is nowhere near the June 1992 level, when support for an independent candidacy ran very high (61%).

Two-in-three voters who have heard of Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura say they would not consider voting for him. A comparable number rule out a ballot for two-time third party presidential contender Ross Perot. Far fewer people know of former Connecticut Governor Lowell Weicker, and two-thirds of them say there is no chance they would vote for him.

Voters see a Republican-Democrat match-up between Bush and Gore as a substantive choice, with a plurality saying that the two take different positions on the issues. At the same time, no single issue jumps to the top of the public’s agenda to drive a third party bid. The top issues voters want the candidates to talk about are health care, Social Security and Medicare, though none is volunteered by even one-in-five people.

In a general election test, Bush continues to lead Gore by 53% to 42%, numbers virtually unchanged over four Pew Research Center surveys dating back to September 1998. Bush has a sizable four-to-one lead over Elizabeth Dole, his nearest competitor for the Republican nomination, and Gore holds a two-to-one lead over his only challenger, Bill Bradley.

Two-thirds of voters (65%) say that a candidate’s ability to raise money is not a good measure of his or her ability to get things done. Not surprisingly, then, awareness of Bush’s fund raising prowess has no impact on his standing with voters. Bush runs equally well among voters who are aware that he has raised significantly more money than other candidates as he does among those unaware of this.

The new Pew Research Center telephone survey conducted July 13-18, 1999 also finds that while just 15% of Americans are paying very close attention to election news, a solid six-in-ten majority says the media is paying about the right amount of attention to the 2000 presidential campaign. By contrast, 40% say the media is paying too much attention to first lady Hillary Clinton’s possible Senate campaign. The survey also finds President Clinton’s approval rating up a few points to 58%.