The Bloomberg Math

Could a Third-Party Candidate Change the Two-Party Battleground?

By Published on .

Evan Tracey Evan Tracey
Lately my inbox and voice mail have been filled with journalists and financial analysts asking the same questions: What if Michael Bloomberg and his billion dollars gets into the race for the White House? What will it mean for media spending? How much can he spend? Where and when could he spend it?

However, the question that has not been asked, at least to me, is how might Michael Bloomberg, or any other viable third-party entrant, change the general election battleground states and the paid media strategy?

I think this is a far more interesting question to contemplate, and one that could have a larger impact on broadcasters eager to get their hands on the billion-plus dollars that are potentially going to be spent between now and next November.

For the sake of argument, let's assume a couple of things. First, that the battleground or "purple states" in a two-party race today are similar to the 15-20 that have been in-play the last few presidential elections (Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, etc.). Secondly, lets assume that the national political climate (unpopular war, unpopular government policies, and historically low approval for congress and the president, etc.) will continue to align in favor of a viable third-party candidate getting into the race. Finally, let us imagine that the current front-runners in the Democratic and Republican Parties go on to win their nominations.

So how then would a well-funded third-party candidate like Bloomberg change the Electoral College and supporting battleground media strategy? It's possible that it could change things dramatically.

It is important to remember that, even after dropping out at one point, Ross Perot received close to 18% of the popular vote in 1992. Although he didn't win any states outright, he definitely changed the arithmetic in a number of them.

So if an independent candidate today, who didn't have to raise money or be tied to one of the current political party's policies, like a Mayor Bloomberg, runs on a platform that is center-right on issues such as taxes and government spending (or even a touch of "America First" on issues like trade with China and Mexico), but also favors ending the U.S. involvement in Iraq, providing health care and prescription drugs for all, and a few other left-leaning issues mixed in, then this type of candidate will change the red and blue states by pulling more voters from one party to favor the other.

Could it make a state like Florida or Ohio less of a tossup and put New York and California in play for Republicans for the first time in a long time? Could this dynamic also put some Southern states in play for Democrats?

It is impossible to say this far out from November 2008 if there will even be a viable third party candidate in the race, but one thing is clear, we're going head-first into a media and ad-dominated election that could see big shifts away from the "what" and "where" we've become used to seeing.

~ ~ ~
Evan Tracey is the founder and chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a TNS Media Intelligence company. See his complete bio.
Most Popular