With Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz now the top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, and Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders closing the gap in national polls for the Democratic nod, moderate voters on both sides of the aisle are increasingly fretting about the possibility of facing an unpalatable choice between two extremist candidates this fall.
Some have been pinning their hopes on former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is exploring a run for president as a potential “centrist” alternative for voters who would otherwise be tempted to sit the election out altogether or move to a tropical island. Unfortunately, if the presidential contest does come down a race between Sanders and Trump or Cruz, Bloomberg would have an incredibly tough time pulling off a win.
While there have been no public polls testing Mayor Bloomberg’s chances in the general election (although we’re sure we will see some soon), existing data shows just how much of the electorate is open, in theory, to a Bloomberg candidacy. The answer: Not enough.
One problem is the vanishingly few number of voters who are truly “independent.” Just 24% of Americans place themselves ideologically between the two parties, and only 27% of this group also do not identify with either party. This equates to just 5% of the electorate being truly independent, or as we refer to them, “moderate independents.”
Clearly, Bloomberg is not going to win simply by winning over this group alone, so his chances are predicated on more moderate Democrats and Republicans defecting from their party’s nominee. However, for Bloomberg to think that he has a chance, he will have to assume that all American voters understand the issue positions (ideologies) of Sanders and Trump/Cruz, or that he will be able to educate voters on their political views. Otherwise it will be no different than a generic Democrat versus a generic Republican.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that Trump is the eventual nominee. According to Lincoln Park Strategies’ latest national poll, 42% of Republican voters consider themselves to be more conservative than Donald Trump! Clearly these voters are not going to abandon their party to vote for a former New York City Mayor who strongly supports restricting access to guns and has much more liberal views on social issues. And neither will the 21% of Republican voters who feel they are ideologically aligned with Trump. Therefore, Bloomberg’s theoretical opening is among the 37% of Republicans who believe that Trump is more conservative than they are. We come to the same results if Senator Cruz is the Republican nominee. The only major difference is that among Republican voters, more line up with Cruz ideologically than they do with Trump (25% to 21%), but that would not stop them from supporting the party’s nominee.
On the flip side, the 35% of Democratic voters who currently believe they are more liberal than Sanders are not exactly fertile ground for Bloomberg either. Bloomberg’s potential supports lies among the 41% minority of Democrats who believe that Sanders is more liberal than they are. This leaves Sanders with a majority of Democrats – the 35% of Democrats who feel they are more liberal than Sanders and the 24% of Democrats whose ideology is the same as Sanders.
Among independent voters who have an opinion on the ideologies of Trump, Cruz, and Sanders (about 70% of the cohort), 28% are either ideologically aligned with Sanders or are more liberal than him, while another 34% of independents are aligned or further to the right of Trump and Cruz. That leaves 39% of independents who are ideologically between the two possible candidates and who in theory would be most drawn to the “non-ideological, bipartisan, results-oriented vision” with which Bloomberg is hoping to run.
If we combine the three groups of potential Bloomberg voters together (independents in between the two candidates, and the Democratic and Republican voters to the respective left and right of the hypothetical nominee), Bloomberg technically could win 39% of voters. If Bloomberg wins every single voter open to him, Sanders would end up with 31%, with 30% for Trump or Cruz – enough to give Bloomberg the presidency.
However, the odds of winning every voter are slim to say the least. Moreover, many moderates may not vote for Bloomberg, fearing a “spoiler effect” that could ultimately hand the presidency to Trump or Sanders.
And yet another problem for Bloomberg is that America doesn’t elect its president by popular vote – the real goal is to win the 270 electoral votes needed to win the Electoral College.
As the chart below shows, the winner take all system of the Electoral College makes it extremely difficult for Bloomberg to win in any type of state. The lack of concentration of voters across the three groups is troublesome for his potential campaign. While he could potentially win a decent share of votes, the odds of him winning many (if any) electoral votes is slim at best.
At the end of the day, there is technically a narrow path for Bloomberg to gain the support of a plurality of voters, but there is very little chance that he would do much more than put Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump in office – which is exactly what he’s trying to prevent by thinking about running in the first place.