Michael Bloomberg's decision to bolt the Republican Party comes at a time when the GOP's public rating has dipped to its lowest level in nearly 18 years, in at least one poll, and stokes speculation behind a potential independent candidacy.
In the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released late last week, 49 percent of Americans viewed the Republican Party unfavorably, making it the party's worst showing ever in that poll and a mirror image of the party's standing in May 2003 when 49 percent viewed the GOP positively.
(The NBC-WSJ poll started asking the question in 1990 and offers a "neutral" option, which about two in 10 then and now said best expresses their feeling about the party.)
Since the Spring of 2003, as public judgment about the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the party's standing -- led by spiking disapproval ratings of President Bush -- has slipped dramatically. In the latest survey, just 28 percent had favorable views of the party.
Widespread dissatisfaction with the GOP is an important backdrop for the mayor's announcement, but Bloomberg asserts that the switch brings his "affiliation in alignment," essentially truing his beliefs and policies with a more appropriate moniker. It also fuels discussion of his presidential aspirations.
Should he enter the presidential fray -- setting aside the numerous logistical challenges of running as an independent in our two-party system -- Bloomberg would face long-odds.
In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of registered voters who had heard of Bloomberg said there was "no chance" they would vote for him if he were a presidential candidate. (Sixty-five percent said they had heard of him; 51 percent in the poll said they knew who Fred Thompson is and 36 percent said so about Sam Brownback.)
A June Fox News poll put up Bloomberg as an independent against Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani in a hypothetical general election (talk about a subway series!), and Bloomberg registered a distant seven percent; about twice as many said "other" or "don't know." Among self-identified independents, Bloomberg got 11 percent in the Fox poll. A Quinnipiac University poll released this morning has Bloomberg doing somewhat better in New York state, but still trailing. In that poll, 43 percent supported Clinton, 29 percent Giuliani and 16 percent the current mayor.
Underdog or not, Bloomberg's party jump and his deep pockets make for fascinating discussion -- and polling -- about the potential for a third-party challenger in 2008. It is fodder that should last well beyond Independence Day.
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