Robert Shapiro, a Columbia University professor who previously chaired the Department of Political Science there, said he believed Schultz may have made a strategic error by floating the idea of his candidacy too “early” in the election cycle.
“If you’re running as an independent, you want to get attention, and you want to have voters see where you fit in the political space,” Shapiro said.
That is usually easiest, Shapiro said, when an independent has a good idea of who his opponents will be.
While Trump is very likely to be the Republican Party’s nominee in 2020, the Democratic field is completely wide open and still might be so a full year from now.
“It does raise the question of if Schultz’s strategy would be better if he first ran in the [Democratic] party and then ran as an independent afterward” if he failed to secure the nomination, Shapiro said.
He and other analysts noted that it is possible for Schultz, or another independent, to garner a significant share of the popular vote. Perot got 19 percent in 1992, after actually leading in public opinion polls at some point that year.
But Shapiro pointed out that Perot received “no electoral votes” that year despite his relatively strong showing in the popular vote.
The Electoral College — not the popular vote — determines who wins the presidency.
It is possible for an independent to win electoral votes, as George Wallace did with 46 electoral votes in 1968. But if Schultz were to win enough votes to play the spoiler in 2020 and no candidate were able to score the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, the election would then be decided by the House of Representatives.
And “the House has Democrats and Republicans,” Shapiro said.
David Barker, professor of government and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said Schultz’s “rollout went quite poorly.” Schultz also seems to have overestimated the pool of voters who could be induced to vote for him, Barker said.
“The vast majority of ‘independents’ are simply ideologues who do not want to identify with their natural party because they believe that party sells out too much or is too interested with protecting its power rather than pursuing particular ideological goals,” Barker said.
“In other words, they don’t like the party because the party is not pure enough.”
But “the group of pure independents who are truly up for grabs is about 10 percent, and most of them are quite disengaged from politics so not necessarily voters,” Barker said.