These two questions from the Suffolk University poll of Florida perfectly demonstrate that Mitt Romney needs to fear an independent candidate getting in the presidential race and really shouldn’t piss off Ron Paul. The poll found that Mitt Romney leads President Obama in a potential general election match in Florida 47 percent to 42 percent, but the poll importantly shows why Romney leads. From Suffolk:

Q22. Is your vote more a vote FOR Obama or AGAINST Republican Mitt Romney?
For Obama ………………………………. 83%
Against Romney …………………………17%
Q23. Is your vote more a vote FOR Romney or AGAINST Democrat Barack Obama?
For Romney ……………………………….  52%
Against Obama ……………………………. 48%

The dynamic of the 2012 general election in Florida is basically that there is a large number of individuals, somewhat shy of a majority, who are fairly happy with President Obama’s performance so they will vote for him. On the other hand, about a quarter of the voters think Romney would actually make a good president so that is why they will vote for him.

Romney is only winning because there is another roughly quarter of the electorate that is unhappy with the job Obama has done so is determined to vote against him. As long as the only viable way to vote against Obama is to vote for Romney, this distinction is not really important. However, if there is another semi-prominent candidate for these anti-Obama voters to support to show their disapproval of Obama, then Romney would have a serious problem.

There is a significantly larger anti-Obama vote than anti-Romney vote out there. This is why all theoretical general election match-ups with a third candidate shows Romney losing big. Because we use the very stupid first-past-the-post election system, if a third party candidate could end up taking as little as 2-4 percent of this anti-Obama vote from Romney, it ends up allow Obama to win a plurality victory.

Romney only has a chance of winning because for a large number of voters Obama is completely unacceptable and Romney is the only possible alternative. Romney can’t afford for there to be other alternatives that look even semi-viable.