A generic third-party presidential candidate emphasizing border security would tie a Democratic candidate and defeat a Republican, according to a new poll.

The Rasmussen Reports national survey asked respondents how they would vote if “a third party candidate ran in 2008 and promised to build a barrier along the Mexican border and make enforcement of immigration law his top priority.”

In that scenario, Democrats, with 31 percent, would be in a virtual tie with the third-party candidate, with 30 percent of the vote. The Republican candidate would be favored by only 21 percent.

Rasmussen comments that the result “probably reflects unhappiness with both parties on the immigration issue rather than a true opportunity for a third party.”

Historically, the pollster points out, issues that drive third-party candidates are co-opted by one of the major parties as they prove popular.

Rasmussen surveys have indicated most Americans favor a barrier along the border and enforcement of existing laws prior to other reforms.

Without the third-party candidate, according to the new poll, Democrats hold a 12-point advantage over Republicans on a generic 2008 presidential ballot, 44 percent to 32 percent.

Rasmussen said these figures likely are a reflection of unhappiness with the Bush administration rather than a commentary on prospective candidates from either party.

The latest poll found that with the immigration-issue candidate as an option, 36 percent of voters who identified as conservatives chose the Republican candidate while 35 percent picked the third-party option.

Among political moderates, 34 percent chose the Democrat while 32 percent preferred the third-party candidate.

In contrast to issues such as Iraq and the economy, Rasmussen sees immigration as unsettling for the status quo “because it cuts across the typical partisan and ideological lines in ways that could reshape the nation’s political equilibrium.”

By emphasizing enforcement of the law, Democrats have leaped ahead of Republicans in the latest poll asking Americans which party they trust more on the issue of illegal immigration.

As WorldNetDaily reported yesterday, a Rasmussen survey found more Americans trust Democrats on the immigration issue than Republicans, a recent reversal that has come as Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean declares enforcement of the border his party’s top priority.

An earlier survey found that, in a hypothetical race for Congress, a plurality of Americans would vote for the candidate who favors more enforcement on the immigration issue.

Another earlier survey found two-thirds of Americans believe it doesn’t make sense to debate new immigration laws until we can first control our borders and enforce existing laws.

That same survey found 40 percent of Americans favor “forcibly” requiring all 11 million illegal immigrants to leave the United States.

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