Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 12:47 pm | Fair 71º


Michael Barone: Will Independent Candidate Support Dissipate in Kansas, South Dakota?

One question I'm asked in every electoral cycle is, "What are the surprise races in this election?" My answer in recent years has been, "There are no surprises, because any unexpected development becomes universally known in seconds."

There have been two such developments in this cycle. One in Kansas: the emergence about five weeks ago of independent Greg Orman (and the withdrawal from the ballot of the Democratic nominee) as a strong competitor against 34-year Capitol Hill veteran Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

The other was in South Dakota: a poll showing Larry Pressler, a former Republican senator running as an independent, within the statistical margin of error of Republican nominee Mike Rounds and ahead of Democrat Rick Weiland.

Before these developments, everyone figured these were safe Republican seats. Now they look to be in jeopardy. Republicans' chances for the net gain of six seats they need for a Senate majority seem reduced.

Unless these polls are dreadfully wrong, there's no question that many Kansas and South Dakota voters have been changing their minds. That's in contrast to the relatively static preferences of voters in other states with serious Senate contests, where only a few percent seem to have been moving around.

Both these states' contests feature purportedly independent candidates. In September, Gallup reported, 58 percent of Americans said that a third political party was needed. So maybe it's not surprising that, when presented with a well-known independent candidate, many voters consider voting for him.

But will they still feel that way on Election Day? Recent elections in Brazil on Oct. 5 and in Britain in 2010 suggest that they may not.

In Brazil, Eduardo Campos, who had been running third with between 7 and 13 percent in the polls, died in a plane crash on Aug. 13. His vice presidential candidate, Marina Silva, who had run for president herself in 2010, took his place and within days zoomed up to parity, at 34 percent, with incumbent Dilma Rousseff. Languishing in third place in every September poll was PSDB nominee Aecio Neves.

But on Election Day, Rousseff led with 42 percent. Neves was second with 34 percent and Silva a distant third with 21 percent. Those numbers were very similar to the first-round results in 2010, when Rousseff had 47 percent, the PSDB nominee 33 percent and Silva 19 percent.

So election returns from four years before seemed a better predictor than the late August and September polls. And now Neves, who was running third just weeks ago, is leading Rousseff in polls for the Oct. 26 runoff.

Something similar happened in the 2010 British election. After the initial debate between prime ministerial candidates — the first in British history — support for Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democratic party ballooned. Incumbent Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative challenger David Cameron trailed behind.

But on Election Day, most Britons voted either Conservative or Labour, as they have since 1922, with Conservatives gaining seats, as widely expected. Clegg's Lib Dems actually won fewer parliamentary seats than in 2005.

What this suggests is that voters may flirt with third-party candidates during a campaign but, when it comes down to voting, tend to choose between two major parties in pretty much the same proportions as they have before.

The American political system, more than Brazil's or Britain's, tends to strengthen this tendency. The Electoral College at the presidential level and single-member seats in Senate and House elections are formidable barriers to third parties and independent candidacies.

An independent presidential candidate who achieves critical mass can be competitive, as Ross Perot seemed to be until he withdrew suddenly in July 1992 or as polls in 1995 suggested Colin Powell would have been as an independent candidate. But usually support for third candidates dissipates by Election Day.

Will it this year? Perhaps Pressler, who voted twice for President Barack Obama, will displace Weiland as the chief alternative to Rounds in South Dakota. But he faces an uphill climb in a state that voted 58 percent for Mitt Romney.

In Kansas (60 percent Romney), Roberts has banked on that with a simple message — I'm the real Republican; he's a Democrat. He's running even if you average the three polls conducted this month.

My guess is that oscillating polls will give way to familiar results in South Dakota and Kansas, as they did in Brazil and Britain. But maybe not. We'll see.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @MichaelBarone, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Supporter

Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >