New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is certainly thinking of running for president. If he does, which of the two major party candidates is more likely to be hurt? Initial polls show the Republican candidate, but I'd say it is much more likely he will hurt the Democrats--no matter who the candidate is. It's all about Independents.
Independents are no longer a catch-all in American politics for people who can't make up their mind, but a distinct political tendency: liberal on social issues, fiscally moderate (skeptical about new taxes and about large-scale government initiatives), and deeply committed to political reform (that is, convinced that special interests hold sway in Washington and over the two major parties). Blue-state Independents in California, New England, and the upper Midwest also favor gun control and strong government regulation of the environment. Sagebrush Independents favor abortion rights and oppose gun control and are wary of almost any government economic intervention. Together, these self-identified Independents make up about one-third of the electorate nationally, and almost two-fifths in states like New Hampshire and Minnesota.
Over the last 15 years, Blue-state Independents have leaned toward the Democratic Party, while Sagebrush Independents have backed Republicans. But in 2006, many of the Sagebrush Independents in states like Colorado and Montana backed Democrats. These voters are not automatically committed to either party. In California, for instance, Goveror Arnold Schwarzenegger, running as a centrist, easily carried the Independents against liberal Democrat Phil Angelides.
With his strong stand on social issues, including gun control, global warming, and non-partisan government, Bloomberg would stand an excellent chance of winning a share of the Blue-state (although probably not the Sagebrush) Independents. He could make life difficult for Democratic candidates in parts of New England, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon, and even California. In a close election, that might be enough to put a Republican in the White House.
If you want a precedent for Bloomberg, it's not Ross Perot in 1992, but John Anderson in 1980. Anderson tried to run a non-partisan, centrist campaign against Jimmy Carter on the left and Ronald Reagan on the right. Like Bloomberg, Anderson was an extremely moderate Republican--by the time, he ran, he was indistinguishable from a moderate Democrat.
Anderson provided the margin of victory for Reagan in eleven states. Some of these were Southern states where Carter was strong, and Anderson got just a few percent, but others were the same kind of states where Democrats, with Independent votes, now win majorities. In these states Anderson got between 9 and 15 percent. They included Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin. In addition, Anderson racked up large votes in Colorado, Arizona, Montana, New Hampshire, Hawaii, and Maine. Most of these are states that a Democrat needs to win to win the presidency. That's why the Democrats have more to fear from a Bloomberg candidacy than the Republicans.