What if Gary Johnson Makes the Presidential Debates?
Former Governor Gary Johnson (R-New Mexico) became the Libertarian Party candidates for president last week, sparking a new discussion about the relevance of a third-party in 2016. To his credit, Johnson has polled at 10% in a recent presidential poll which included himself, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump.
The Libertarian Party hasn’t been able to make a serious dent in national politics, but that could change in 2016. Pollster John Zogby warns about counting him out:
I know that third parties have never done particularly well in our presidential elections. Former President Theodore Roosevelt won 27% of the vote in 1912 and received 88 electoral votes. In 1968, George Wallace received 13% of the vote and won 45 southern state electoral votes. And Ross Perot, after leading in early 1992 then dropping out July, came back to score 19% of the popular vote. But Perot won no electoral votes.
But this year history and tradition do not seem to matter very much. Age certainly does not appear to be a factor as two 68-year-old frontrunners possibly face off against each other–and one is threatened by a 74-year-old Democratic challenger. Meanwhile, a 93-year-old GOP icon suggests a 73-year-old former Speaker as Donald Trump’s running mate, and a 72-year-old vice president perhaps waits in the wings to be the substitute if needed.
The two parties appear ready to nominate two of the most unpopular candidates in the country and confidence in both the Democratic and Republican parties is at an all time low. Not quite half (45%) say they are willing to support an independent candidate–and this is late in the game. Trump has broken all the rules of engagement and Hillary Clinton faces either a possible indictment or at least some sort of serious reprimand.
As mentioned, Johnson hit 10% in a national poll. Here are the details on that Cleveland.com:
Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee and former governor of New Mexico, is polling at 10 percent in two recently released national polls against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, reports FiveThirtyEight.
A Morning Consult survey published Tuesday found Clinton getting 38 percent, Trump at 35, and Johnson at 10, with 17 percent undecided. A Fox News poll conducted from May 14-17 showed Trump at 42 percent, Clinton at 39 percent, and Johnson at 10 percent.
Sure, it’s just one poll so far, so let’s get that out of the way. This could be meaningless, and it may change in a week. However, given the historically unfavorable ratings of Clinton and Trump, Johnson seems poised to reap some of the benefit.
Polling at 10% is just 5 points shy of the 15% threshold to be included in the official Presidential debates in the Fall. He’d have to meet that 15% threshold in several different polls over the summer, but if he’s starting at 10% before anyone knows who he is, that level of support could be attainable. If that happens, the race might just get shuffled again in ways we can’t even imagine. It’s been decades since someone besides a Republican or Democrat appeared on the Presidential debate stage, all the way back to 1992 with Ross Perot.
Gary Johnson could be on the verge of making waves for the Libertarian Party in 2016 with disaffected fans of Bernie Sanders, and perhaps disaffected Republicans who are not riding the “Trump Train.”