Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Meeting in the middle

In Declaring Independence, political pollster Douglas Schoen argues that the time is right for an independent third party candidate to run, and win, the Presidency. He identifies a group of voters he calls restless and anxious moderates who are disenchanted and even alienated by the two parties. He also claims these key swing voters will be won over by substance and not style, and that they are looking for a pragmatic problem solver who fix the many problems the country faces. Schoen also points to changes in the ability of third party candidates to reach voters and raise money. It is the combination of a desire among the electorate and a system more friendly to third party candidates that makes this heretofore unlikely occurrence a possibility.

Schoen also discusses the way that technology and the Internet in particular is increasing the viability of candidates outside of the anointed. Where Ross Perot had to rely on 800 numbers and TV advertising, today's candidates can use the various Web 2.0 tools like social networking, YouTube and PayPal fund raising.

The rise of Obama in the past few months could argue both for and against Schoen's thesis. On the one hand, Clinton and McCain could be associated with the same old product from the parties, and Obama represents the idea of the new. On the other, voters may merely like his fresh new style, as they once liked JFK, which would argue against what Schoen is saying.

Imagining a scenario in which Obama was not involved, but Clinton and McCain were the candidates, it is much easier to imagine voters looking to someone else. Schoen is an advisor to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and he muses about Bloomberg's chances in 2008. You don't have to believe in the Bloomberg candidacy to think that someone could step in at this point, if there was no Obama that is.

The specifics of the 2008 election aside, Schoen does identify the means by which a insurgent candidate could overturn the existing party structure in the US. The result would likely be the emergence of a party that would eventually replace the Democrats or Republicans. The government can't be run by an independent alone and eventually a legislative agenda would have be created and that would require local organization and party affiliation.

If you would like to get a sense of the argumentation in the book, read his recent editorial in the Washington Post. It lays out his thinking nicely.

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