Let's start with what the poll, in the broadest terms, gets right. It finds that 58 percent of respondents to its national survey are dissatisfied with their remaining Democratic and Republican options for president. A majority of Americans also have an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton (56 percent) and Donald Trump (55 percent).
That's all in keeping with what lots of other polls have told us about the state of the electorate toward the two presumptive nominees. They don't like either one. We're good so far.
Where the Data Targeting poll gets into deep trouble is in its quest to extrapolate out from the unpopularity of the two likely nominees to the viability of an independent candidate. We are told in the memo that "55 percent of respondents favor having an independent presidential ticket in 2016" and that "a shocking 91 percent of voters under the age of 29 favor having an independent candidate on the ballot." Shocking!
And then, the coup de grace:
In a ballot test against Clinton and Trump, a truly independent candidate starts off with 21 percent of the vote. This number increases to 29 percent in the “Big Sky” region, 30% in “New England” and 28 percent in the “West” region. Among voters with an unfavorable opinion of both Trump and Clinton, the independent actually wins the ballot test:TRUMP: 11%
That settles it! All you need to do is nominate a "truly independent candidate," and that person will immediately become a serious and viable third-party alternative to Clinton and Trump.
This is the classic mistake made by those who believe the country is yearning for a third-party candidate. See, when you ask people if they want a third option, they always say yes! And that third option wins 1 in 5 voters without doing anything!
The logic problem here is that conducting a ballot test question using the names "Hillary Clinton" and "Donald Trump" matched up against "independent" is totally wrong and misleading. Clinton and Trump are two real people with lots and lots of well-known warts between them. And we already know that people don't really like either of them. So when you offer a third option that is not real — a "truly independent candidate" — then of course that option looks SUPER attractive to people.
Think of it this way. You are really hungry. You have three options to eat. The first is blood pudding. The second is liverwurst. (Let's assume you are a normal person and hate both of those things.) The third is an unidentified food.
You immediately begin fantasizing about what that third food might be. A cherry pie? A nice steak? Ice cream? Pizza? It's something different for most people. But the fact that it's an option without any specifics attached to it makes it instantly appealing. It could be the exact thing you have been craving!
You inevitably would choose the third option for that reason.
But what if the three options were blood pudding, liverwurst and pigs' feet? Now the choice is less clear. You have to pick between three things you know you don't like rather than fantasizing about what the mysterious third option might be.
That's what happens when you ask questions in which two candidates are named and one is cast an an ideal generic pick. Everyone puts the traits they want to see in a politician onto that "truly independent candidate." But that person doesn't exist. A real third-party candidate would have his or her own flaws and problems — just like Clinton and Trump. And he or she might be one person's version of a cherry pie even while being another's blood pudding.
Add it all up, and you realize this poll tells you absolutely nothing of value about how a third-party candidate would fare in a race against Clinton and Trump. What this poll does tell us is that people don't like Trump or Clinton (we knew that) and do like the idea of a perfect, other candidate. Um, no kidding.