There's a substantial appetite among American voters for an option other than the two major parties in this year's elections - but there's little taste for any of the third-party or independent candidates currently competing, according to the latest poll by The Washington Times/JZ Analytics.
While voters said they'd like more options, the vast majority conceded they usually only look to the Republican and Democratic parties for their choices, and said there are structural barriers that prevent third-party candidates from getting in the race or winning the kind of attention it takes to make a splash.
The desire for other choices was strong among both independents and Republicans, while Democrats - who control the White House and the Senate - were less eager to see alternatives.
"Regardless of whether folks are open to a third party today, there's almost an expectation that, 'Hey, this whole thing could be open to a third party,'" said John Zogby, the pollster who conducted the survey. "There's one kind of waiting to be formed. There's just that sense, from conservatives and moderates in particular."
Speculation about a third-party bid has increased in recent weeks now that Mitt Romney appears to have sewn up the GOP's presidential nomination and President Obama went mostly unchallenged for the Democratic nomination.
Earlier this month, former New Mexico Gov. Gary E. Johnson, who left the GOP in December, won the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination, and he has vowed to try to win over supporters of Rep. Ron Paul, who is still competing for delegates for the Republican nomination.
Meanwhile, Americans Elect, an online primary process designed to find an alternative to the two major parties, has a Tuesday deadline for potential candidates to clear the first stage. The project has drawn some interest, but has been hindered by a lack of consensus behind any candidates.
That experience mimics the findings of The Times/JZ Analytics Poll, which found that while voters wanted alternatives, nearly half of those surveyed said they weren't familiar with any of the third-party options this year.
The poll found 28 percent of voters said their political views are represented well by Democrats, an additional 23 percent said the GOP represents their stances, and 3 percent found themselves covered by an existing third party.
But a plurality - 37 percent - said they don't find their views well-represented by any party in the political system. That was particularly true of voters in swing states, of tea party supporters and middle-aged, middle-income voters.
Asked what the biggest obstacle is to a third party, voters were split. About a quarter of those surveyed said there was just no need for one, while 23 percent said the cost was prohibitive and another 23 percent said it was tough to get voters to notice. Just 13 percent said the problem was getting attention from the news media.
"The American people desire a third independent voice in the American presidential debate and on the ballot," said Nick Troniano, former national campus director for Americans Elect, which is trying to use its online primary system to draft former Comptroller General David Walker into the presidential race through Americans Elect.
But he said it has been tough to get enough attention for the Americans Elect process, and that it doesn't appear Mr. Walker or any of the other draft movements will draw enough support to make Tuesday's deadline.
As comptroller general, Mr. Walker ran Congress' investigative agency and has become a leading voice calling for dramatic, balanced action to reduce deficits and debt - a message many voters say they'd like to see injected into the political debate.
Mr. Troniano said part of the problem is that voters who want to see alternatives are generally not political activists, which means they aren't used to working through what can be a convoluted political system. He said there's also a psychological barrier: Voters want to support someone they think can actually win - which generally means turning to the options available from the two major parties.
"It's sort of arbitrary when viability is conferred on a candidate," he said, though the Internet could prove to be a leveling force.
The last third-party nominee to make a splash was Ross Perot, whose independent bid garnered nearly 20 percent of the vote in 1992, and whose deficit-cutting message drove the political debate. But recent years have not been kind to third-party bids, with candidates taking less than 2 percentage points in the past two elections and about 4 percent in 2000.
The Gallup poll has also asked about third parties and found interest has fluctuated dramatically over the past decade. In 2003, Gallup found most voters thought the two parties did an adequate job of representing interests, but that had changed by 2006, and by 2010 fully 58 percent said a third party is needed.