Third party and independent candidates are poised to have a significant impact on the 2016 presidential election, where the unpopularity of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump have left many voters looking for another option on the November ballot.
by Susan Ferrechio
(Washington Examiner) – Polls show Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson garnering as much as 12 percent of the vote nationally, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein is polling as high as 5 percent among U.S. voters.
“This year, the third party candidates have more potential than usual because of the high negative ratings of both major-party candidates,” Ron Faucheux, president of Clarus Research Group, a nonpartisan polling firm, told the Washington Examiner.
Both Clinton and Trump suffer from low favorability ratings in the polls, but Trump’s campaign has been losing ground to Clinton in recent weeks.
Clinton’s rise in the polls over Trump following his series of political gaffes was followed by an announcement this week by former House GOP strategist Evan McMullin that he planned an independent bid as an anti-Trump Republican.
“Like millions of Americans, I had hoped this year would bring us better nominees who, despite party differences, could offer compelling visions of a better future,” McMullin said in his campaign announcement.” Instead, we have been left with two candidates who are fundamentally unfit for the profound responsibilities they seek.”
McMullin joins a long list of obscure third party and Independent candidates who are running for president, but only former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, is expected to be on the ballot in all 50 states, posing the greatest threat to Trump.
Green Party nominee Jill Stein, who would likely siphon Clinton’s support, is petitioning to be included on the ballot in 47 states and has encouraged supporters to write in her name in the remaining three states.
Few expect McMullin to gain real traction as a candidate in all 50 states, where ballot access will be difficult this late in the election. But he could threaten Trump in Utah, a normally red state that is polling very close. McMullin is a Utah native and Brigham Young graduate and could pull away critical support from Trump, which would give Clinton a greater chance to win Utah for the Democrats.
Johnson, the former GOP governor of New Mexico, could have the most significant impact on a presidential race since independent candidate Ross Perot won 19 percent of the vote in 1992 and arguably helped to thwart George H.W. Bush’s bid for a second term.
Johnson received 10 percent to 12 percent in four polls this month, and is within reach of the 15 percent needed to be included in the upcoming presidential debates, which Johnson said is critical to his candidacy.
Pollsters believe Johnson could reach that number, particularly if Trump continues to veer off message as he did on Tuesday, when he drew criticism for making a veiled suggesting that Clinton could be targeted by “Second Amendment people,” for her stance on gun control.
“I think it’s possible,” Johnson could end up in the presidential debates, Faucheux said.
While Johnson and Stein are at least 30 points behind either Clinton or Trump, they could pose a serious threat to either candidate in swing states that will likely determine the outcome in November.
In Florida, for example, Clinton and Trump are tied at 43 percent, according to a Quinnipiac poll of likely voters released Monday. Johnson garnered 7 percent and Stein 3 percent in Florida, the poll found.
Either of the third party candidates could weaken Trump or Clinton, costing them the state — and the election.
Just such a scenario played out in 2000, when third party candidates on the ballot, in particular Green Party nominee Ralph Nader, were believed to have detracted from Democratic nominee Al Gore, who lost the state, and subsequently the election, to George W. Bush.
But Emory University Professor Alan Abramowitz said voters eyeing third party candidates will eventually get behind either Trump or Clinton.
“I doubt that either will get close to the level of support they’ve been receiving in some recent polls,” Abramowitz told the Washington Examiner. “As the election approaches, support for independent and third party candidates typically fades as voters become concerned about wasting their vote and perhaps helping their least preferred candidate.”
But the appetite for a third party candidate has grown in recent years. A Gallup poll last fall found 60 percent of Americans and four out of five independents believed a third party is needed because Republicans and Democrats “do such a poor job,” of representing them.
In 2004, the desire for a third party was 40 percent.