MPR/U of M poll suggests Minnesota voters would consider third-party candidates

Ralph Nader
Former -- and possible future -- third-party presidential candidate Ralph Nader attends the opening of the musical "Lennon" at the Broadhurst Theater August 14, 2005 in New York City.
Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

Results of an MPR News/U of M Humphrey Institute poll found 77 percent of the state's likely voters say they would consider voting for an independent or third-party candidate, while 21 percent would not and 3 percent didn't know.

Minnesotans will have third-party options this year when they vote for president and U.S. Senator.

Dean Barkley
Independence Senate candidate Dean Barkley participates in a debate between Senate candidate at Farm Fest.
MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute, said the openness of voters to a third-party candidate is impressive, especially in the race for president.

"There does seem to be a bit more support for the third party option among Minnesotans who are not enthusiastic about the upcoming presidential race," Jacobs said. "And that suggests that there is a fatigue that may have set in regarding the Democratic and Republican options. And some Minnesotans are looking for an alternative."

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The poll found support in Minnesota for independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader at 3 percent, while 1 percent supported Libertarian Bob Barr.

In the U.S. Senate race, Independence Party of Minnesota hopeful Dean Barkley registered 8 percent in a tight contest between Incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and DFL challenger Al Franken. Jacobs said the poll numbers show third-party candidates could affect the Senate race and the presidential contest in Minnesota.

"There does seem to be enough support for those third-party candidates, and the openness of Minnesotans to consider voting for them, that they could could draw in the 3 to 5 percent range, which could well be enough to tilt the presidential race or the Senate race in one direction or another," Jacobs said. "It's hard to say exactly how that might play out as we move toward November."

Some of the voters looking for political alternatives were on hand at the Minnesota State Fair, to hear three of the Independence Party candidates for U.S. Senate answer questions during an MPR broadcast. Jenny Lief, of White Bear Lake, said she's definitely considering third-party candidates.

"I just feel really strongly that the two party system isn't necessarily the way to go," Lief said. "We just need more choice. More choices are often better. I do not necessarily feel strongly about any of these independent candidates, but I think that it should always be an option."

The poll found that electoral viability is a major hurdle in attracting support for independents. Among the poll respondents who said they would not consider voting for a third-party candidate, 61 percent said their main concern was that they'd be wasting their vote. But Dick Juhl of Minneapolis, another voter open to third-party candidates, says he doesn't think any vote is ever wasted.

"We're showing how we feel about issues as an American public," Juhl said. "So, even if you vote for a loser, you're still not a wasted vote."

Lori Jacobwith, an independent-minded voter from Hopkins, has a similar opinion. Jacobwith says former governor Jesse Ventura proved a third-party candidate can win in Minnesota, and she's certain it will happen again.

"The questions that are being asked aren't being answered by Republican and Democrats to my liking," Jacobwith said. "So I will do everything I can to make sure an independent candidate does win."

The telephone survey of 763 likely voters was conducted between August 7 and 17, 2008. The margin of sampling error error is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.