The release of the latest national poll from CNN/Opinion Research Corporation featured a question that included Ralph Nader and Bob Barr as, respectively, independent an Libertarian candidates for president. The fact that Nader received 6% of the vote among the 921 registered voters interviewed surprised and intrigued many of our readers.
I went back to the data collected by RealClearPolitics at this point four years ago and discovered that Ralph Nader received an average of 5% of the vote (and a range of 3% to 7%) on national surveys fielded during the first half of June 2004:
CNN's latest survey included two CNN asked two versions of the presidential vote question. The first offered just McCain and Obama as choices, the second included Nader and Barr:
If Barack Obama were the Democratic Party's candidate and John McCain were the Republican Party's candidate, who would you be more likely to vote for -- Obama, the Democrat, or McCain, the Republican? (IF UNSURE:) As of today, who do you lean more toward?
Now suppose that the presidential candidates on the ballot in your state included Barack Obama as the Democratic Party's candidate, John McCain as the Republican candidate, Bob Barr as the Libertarian party candidate, and Ralph Nader as an independent candidate, who would you be more likely to vote for? (IF UNSURE:) As of today, who do you lean more toward?
One of my first thoughts on seeing the latest results is whether the order of questions -- asking the four-candidate question second -- might help produce more apparent support for Nader and Barr. Many of the links from 2004 have long since gone dead (so our ability to track down full questionnaires is limited). However, the Pew Research Center poll from four years ago also produced a slightly larger than average Nader vote, and that survey asked their three-way candidate choice question first.
We will keep close watch on the various forms of the presidential vote questions that pollsters ask over the next few months. At the state level, we will eventually see pollsters ask vote preference questions that match the names on the ballot, although most will try to limit choices to the better known alternatives. At the national level, we may start to see more pollsters following CNN's example and asking two versions of the vote question. In such cases, our general rule is to use the first question asked as the result of record for Pollster.com's charts and tables. However, if enough pollsters start asking two forms of the question, we may create a separate charts and tables to track each.
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