By Brad Kutner, Courthouse News

NORFOLK, Va. (CN) – Taking the wind out of Democrats’ sails, a public policy group reported Tuesday that an independent candidate running in 2020 could help secure the re-election of President Donald Trump.

The Wason Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan outfit based in Norfolk, Virginia, conducted its survey over a two-week period earlier this month, polling more than 1,000 likely voters with land lines and cellphones on how they would cast their ballot in certain scenarios.

In a head-to-head challenge with a Democrat, polling puts Trump behind by 11 points. If, however, a third-party candidate like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz were to enter the ring, “the election becomes a statistical tie between Trump and his Democratic Party rival, 34% to 32%, with 16% going to the Independent and 16% undecided.”

“[Someone like] Schultz would be well poised to serve as a spoiler, and the votes would come from … Democrats because their coalition is more moderate and less party loyal,” said Rachel Bitecofer, an assistant director at Wason Center who authored the study.

Discussing her research over the phone, Bitecofer said that 16 percent of voters supporting the Independent candidate might not be enough when it comes to the Electoral College, but that such numbers could still be enough to sway some states to the right.

Bitecofer recalled how Trump won Wisconsin’s electoral votes in 2016 by just over 1 percent.

“Trump won those places because … about 5 percent of the electorate voted for someone not named Clinton or Trump,” she said. “That was enough to sway the election.”

While the study shows independent votes getting pried from Democrats by a 5-1 ratio, Bitcofer highlighted that the number of undecided candidates increased in this scenario as well.

Schultz has been mulling a 2020 run since last year and has spent the first few months of 2019 pitching the idea to a curious audience. After CNN hosted a town hall for the possible candidate earlier this month, Schultz offered to retract his bid if the Democrats elected a more centrist candidate. Schultz said internal polling he ordered on his own dime showed him being competitive in a race where someone like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is at the top of the Democratic ticket.

“I would reassess the situation if the numbers change as a result of a centrist Democrat winning the nomination,” Schultz told the Washington Post. “As I explore whether to run for office, I will do so with the conviction that my final decision must not make his reelection a possibility. I can assure you no one wants Donald Trump fired more than I.”

The remarks drew swift condemnation from Sanders, who announced his primary bid last week and has reportedly raised about $10 million from over 350,000 individual donors.

“There are a lot of people I know personally who work hard for a living who make forty, fifty thousand dollars a year who know a lot more about politics than, with all due respect, does Mr. Schultz,” Sanders told “CBS This Morning.”