Introduction and Summary

Support for a third party candidate in 1996 has increased for the third consecutive time in eight months, as opposition to Republican policies in Congress continues, and Bill Clinton’s approval rating sags. The latest Time Mirror Center for The People & The Press survey found as many as 26% saying they would like to see an independent candidate elected, compared to 32% who favor the President’s re-election, and 35% who favor an unnamed Republican candidate. The nationwide poll of 1476 respondents conducted this past weekend also found the public disapproving of GOP Congressional leaders’ policies by a wider margin (45% to 38%) than in mid June (45% to 41%), and Clinton’s approval rating slipping from 50% to 44% over that same period.

But it’s not just the President who is in trouble with the American public. Every major political figure tested in the current survey has either a very negative and/or increasingly unfavorable rating. Even hero Colin Powell doesn’t look quite as good to the public as he did earlier in the year. Newt Gingrich’s negative ratings have shot up the most — from 37% negative in February, to 54% currently. Only 30% have a favorable opinion of the House Speaker. Bob Dole’s numbers are better (49% favorable, 38% unfavorable), but earlier in the year the Senate Leader’s ratings were much more positive (58% to 28%).

Ross Perot received the most negative evaluation (40% favorable, 53% unfavorable) of any national figure tested in the survey. However it represented no change over past poll results. Clearly, the United We Stand political convention did little to help him, since only 7% of the public closely followed the nationally televised event. In contrast, the seldom seen, but much discussed Colin Powell achieved the best evaluation: 62% favorable, 17% unfavorable. Yet this result represents the first time the General’s rating’s have slipped in a nationwide poll. In February, Powell got a much more positive evaluation: 67% favorable, 11% unfavorable.

The consistent growth in potential support for independent candidates is highly correlated with increasing discontent with Republican policies, combined with a basically gridlocked view of Bill Clinton. The President’s approval ratings have fluctuated within a relatively narrow range over the past nine months, while evaluations of GOP leaders have steadily soured. Fully 63% of those who disapprove of both Clinton and the GOP leaders (this group represents 15% of the public) favor an independent candidate in 1996. And 44% of all political independents say they would cast their ballot for an Independent candidate, compared to 25% who would support Clinton and 23% a Republican challenger.