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Majority of Republicans want a third party for the first time

For the first time since Gallup began polling the public on the issue, a majority of Republicans back the establishment of a third political party. Although support for a third party among all Americans is actually down from last year, the rise of the tea party may be responsible for the leap in Republican third party support — as well as the perhaps fear-of-the-tea-party-driven drop in third-party backing among Democrats.

Gallup has the breakdown on its website, which includes the little-acknowledged fact that independents overwhelmingly want a third party and always have:

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/gallup-poll.png

Interestingly, the poll also includes a potential barometer of ideological identification across the country. When asked to identify themselves by political party, 72 percent of self-styled independents called for a third party, compared to just 33 percent of Democrats. But when asked to identify themselves by general ideology, support for a third party among moderates dropped to 52 percent, while support among liberals rose to 51 percent.

Support for a third party held steady at 52 percent across self-identified Republicans and conservatives, suggesting that very few independents identified as conservative, while more than one in four independents identified as liberal.

If a quarter of independents consider themselves liberal and the rest are strictly moderate, it could move the 2012 presidential election in a number of directions. That bloc of liberal-but-not-Democrat voters could end up being a lock for President Obama, leaving it to the Republican candidate — already working with a smaller base than that held by the Democratic party — to fight for every last moderate’s vote. This would all but ensure an Obama victory unless more than two-thirds of non-party-affiliated moderates vote Republican.

Or the growing number of independent liberals disillusioned with the Obama administration over issues like the detention of Bradley Manning and the perpetuation of Bush-era anti-terrorism tactics could just stay home on election day, bolstering Republicans’ chances. Similarly, for the same reasons, staunch liberals may come out in support of a third-party candidate, to the detriment of the Democratic Party — though some have argued that the vote-siphoning effect of third parties is greatly exaggerated.

It’s simply too early to tell. But that large number of liberal and moderate independents fed up with the entire two-party system may very well end up deciding the election. Both parties would do well to start courting them, and soon.

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