The Nader Effect: Polling from Florida

Eight years ago Democrats had good reason to blame Ralph Nader for peeling off enough votes from Al Gore to cost him Florida and the presidency. But this year Democrats may have good reason to welcome the so-called Nader effect. According to recent CNN/Opinion Research polls, Barack Obama leads John McCain by four points in a two-way choice among likely Florida voters. That gap grows to eight points with Nader in the mix, along with other minor-party candidates such as Libertarian Bob Barr.

Another sign the Nader effect may have reversed course is how the Democrats are dealing with him this time. In 2004, John Kerry met with Nader to try to dissuade him from running, and party lawyers contested his place on the ballot. This time, the Obama campaign has made no similar effort to obstruct Nader.

Who are the voters whom Nader siphons from McCain? Kevin Hill, an associate professor of political science at Florida International University, says Nader's populist rhetoric appeals to white working-class voters who lean conservative. "It's probably more of a protest than anything else," he says. McCain aides argue that Nader's poll ratings are too low to be significant. But at Nader's HQ, the lack of attention is welcome: instead of fighting ballot challenges, Nader is now contesting 45 states, and his campaign suggests he'll far exceed his dismal total of about 400,000 votes in 2004.