Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder and former chief executive, is considering a run for president as an independent.
In a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday on CBS, he expressed frustration with the two-party system. “I am seriously thinking of running for president,” he said. “We’re living at a most fragile time, not only the fact that this president is not qualified to be the president but the fact that both parties are consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged, every single day, in revenge politics.”
Since then, Schultz has argued in a slew of media appearances that there is a big appetite for a third-party candidate, a “silent majority” looking for a centrist third way.
But the evidence would suggest otherwise.
To bolster his claims, Schultz has pointed to polling that suggests 40 percent of Americans are independents. That is, technically, true. According to one recent Gallup poll, about 42 percent of Americans affiliate with neither party. But that number is misleading.
Researchers say about 10 percent of “independent voters” are true independents. Most consistently lean toward one party, and very often the values that independents hold aren’t much different from those in the party they usually back.
As Samara Klar and Yanna Krupnikov, authors of “Independent Politics: How American Disdain for Parties Leads to Political Inaction,” explain:
“Independents, political scientists argue, are nothing more than partisans who don’t want to admit that they are partisans. Despite decades of surveys, political science articles and books that reach this very point, the media often trumpet independents as voters untainted by partisan bias, unattached and poised to change the course of history by voting for the candidate that makes the best case during the campaign. This type of coverage is frustrating for many academics.”
Schultz may also have trouble finding voters who connect with his politics.
He is positioning himself as a somewhat “progressive” businessman who will check the most liberal impulses of the Democrats. (He has already criticized Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s popular idea of a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent as “a bit misinformed.”) But it’s not clear there’s much of an appetite for a socially liberal deficit hawk opposed to ambitious Democratic proposals such as public health care and free college tuition. As The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel tweeted:
“One fallacy you’ll never see me fall for is that an election bt Trump and ‘someone on the left like Warren’ would leave a huge path in the middle. If you’re saying that, find me the polls and point to the *unpopular* idea the left is running on. There isn’t one.”
Even if that wasn’t the case, centrist politics don’t have much of a home. One Voter Study Group report from 2016 found that candidates like Schultz, who are economically conservative and socially liberal, are less popular than candidates who are conservative or liberal across the board.
If Schultz really longs to represent a silent majority disaffected by both sides of the aisle, those looking for a successor to Trump are going to demand some data showing that such an individual could actually win the election — and that, perhaps more important, Schultz is the one who can do it.