Can Nader help Obama?

CNN’s new national poll ran versions both with and without third-party candidates. Obama performs one point better in the version with third-party candidates than without, leading McCain by 4 points rather than 3.

This would not be surprising if most of the third party vote were going to Bob Barr. But in fact, it’s Ralph Nader who is picking up most of those votes. He polls at 6 percent in this survey to Barr’s 2 percent.

                 Obama  McCain  Nader  Barr   D/KNo Third Party     49     46      --    --     5w/Third Party      47     43       6     2     2Change             -2     -3      +6    +2    -3

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that Nader takes votes away from the Democrat. Indeed, I suspect that most of his 6 percent comes from Democratic voters. But I suspect that it’s coming from a particular kind of Democratic voter: disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters. Some of those folks are not yet ready to “endorse” Barack Obama. But they might also have significant reservations about voting for John McCain. Ralph Nader (and Bob Barr) provide for something of a soft landing. Even Larry C. Johnson, the seemingly chemically imbalanced former CIA agent behind the anti-Obama conspiracist website No Quarter, yesterday told his truthers that he would be voting for Bob Barr.

By the time the Obama campaign has finished saturating the airwaves in November, it will probably have succeeded in convincing almost all of its base that John McCain is an unacceptable alternative. As some of those voters might still not be ready to vote for Obama, the presence of Nader’s name on the ballot might be as helpful to Obama as it is harmful.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

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