Rasmussen: Romney wins a 3-way race with Obama, Paul

Earlier in this cycle, Republican fretted that Ron Paul could go rogue and run as an independent in the general election, which conventional wisdom held would be a disaster for the GOP.  Paul has (mostly) insisted that he has no intention to make an independent general-election run, but maybe Republicans were too quick to worry.  A new poll from Rasmussen among likely voters show that Romney would win in a three-way match, and Obama would have difficulty hitting 40% of the popular vote (via PJ Tatler):

Texas Congressman Ron Paul appears more interested in influencing the direction of the Republican Party than in running as an independent presidential candidate. But perhaps Democrats should be careful what they wish for: Even if Mitt Romney’s remaining GOP challenger should run as a third party candidate, new Rasmussen Reports surveying finds Romney the winner of a three-way race.

The latest national telephone survey shows that 25% of Likely U.S. Voters think Paul should run as a third party candidate. Sixty-one percent (61%) disagree, but 13% more are not sure. …

Yet despite apparent Democratic hopes that a Paul candidacy might cut into Romney’s total, the likely Republican nominee is the winner of a three-way race if the election were held right now. Given that matchup, Romney earns 44% support to President Obama’s 39%. Paul runs a distant third with 13% of the vote. Two percent (2%) like some other candidate, and another two percent (2%) are undecided.

I doubt that Paul wants to launch an independent bid, too.  He has almost no chance of victory, and such a decision would almost certainly damage the influence of his son Rand in the Republican Party.  The motivations behind this Paul bid are likely to influence the future direction of the GOP, especially on fiscal matters, and to build the Paul organization so that Rand can take over and ride it to a presidential bid of his own.

Still, the Rasmussen results are intriguing.  They tend to corroborate the notion that a third-party run of any significance damages the incumbent rather than the challenger, which is exactly what happened in 1968 (the incumbent party, anyway), 1980, and 1992.  It worked out differently with Ross Perot’s second bid in 1996 for a number of reasons, probably more due to the resurgent economy and the weakness of the Republican ticket.

This poll did oversample Republicans over Democrats, however, with a D/R/I of 36/33/31.  That’s in the ballpark of the 2010 turnout model (35/35/30), but a GOP advantage would be a little surprising (not impossible, though) in 2012.  However, that doesn’t actually come too much into play in the internals.  Paul would get 23% of independents in a 3-way race, but only 5% of Democrats and 11% of Republicans.  More interesting is the fact that Romney gets 10% of Democrats in this poll, while Obama only gets 5% of Republicans.  And while a gender gap does appear between Romney and Obama in this poll, Romney has a 22-point advantage among men in the three-way split over Obama (51/29) while Obama only has a nine-point advantage among women over Romney (47/38).  That gender gap will be something to watch as more polls of likely voters follow.

More than a third of Democrats (34%) want Paul to run as an independent.  They may want to carefully consider the Chinese proverb that warns to be careful when wishing for something, lest one get it.