The Nader Factor: Don't Dismiss Him Just Yet

Washington Matters

The Nader Factor: Don't Dismiss Him Just Yet

When Ralph Nader announced he was running for president (again), few gave it much thought. The conventional wisdom was that he'd already had his day (and his impact), and he wouldn't be able to claim more than a few followers this time around. Well, maybe that'll prove right in the end, but if the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll is any indication, we could be in for another Nader surprise.

The headlines from the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll focus on the two man-matchup (Obama 47, McCain 41) and the continued unease that some voters have with Obama as commander in chief. But a closer look at the data shows something unexpected.

When voters were given a choice among the four candidates who will be on most state ballots -- McCain, Obama, Libertarian Bob Barr and Nader, Obama's lead over McCain grew to 13 points (48-35), with Nader pulling 5 percent and Barr 2 percent.  In short, almost all of Nader's support is coming out of McCain's hide, most from independents who lean to the Arizona senator in a two-person matchup.

This makes a certain amount of sense. Democrats are still furious with Nader for his role in the 2000 election. He won enough votes in several states, most notably Florida, to deny the presidency to Al Gore. Democrats aren't about to let that happen again.


Support for third-party candidates is always hard to gauge. Many people who say they back one now may decide later that the election is too important to "throw away a vote" on someone they know won't win. McCain can get some of those voters back if he succeeds in making them nervous about an Obama presidency. But with an unusually large number of close swing states this year, even the loss of a few thousand votes to Nader and Barr could prove decisive.