Voters now confronted with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are making something abundantly clear: They want another option.
Surveys over the last six weeks have found a steady but noticeable jump in support for third-party candidates. The biggest beneficiary has been Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, who has shot up from 4.5 percent to 7.2 percent in RealClearPolitics polling averages. Green Party candidate Jill Stein has also seen an uptick since June — from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.
The surge in support for a third-party candidate is adding a new element of unpredictability into the presidential race. Should voters opt for a third-party candidate in large numbers, it could potentially tip the scales in crucial battleground states.
Pollsters and political scientists say the deep malcontent with Clinton and Trump should give both candidates pause.
“The fact that we have two major party candidates who are enormously disliked by the electorate, enormously and equally disliked, creates the opportunity for the minor party candidates to do better than they would in other presidential elections,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
“Enormously and equally disliked,” sounds like a fantastic title for a book about the 2016 presidential race. Is the electoral ghost of Ross Perot lurking and in position to give the White House to another Clinton? There are hints that it could be different this time:
Monmouth’s poll from the start of the Republican National Convention also found Johnson pulling more from conservative voters than from liberals, while the reverse held true for Stein.
But the numbers are far from cut-and-dry. Quinnipiac’s recent batch of swing state polls found that Trump’s standing in the race against Clinton improved slightly when all four candidates were included.
In this election that nobody seems to want to win, Gary Johnson isn’t doing himself any favors either. I personally know a lot of libertarian-ish conservatives who don’t like Trump and desperately want to like Johnson. Then he’ll repeat his less-than-libertarian stance on religious freedom or his running mate will make it sound like the ticket is a nightmare as far as supreme court picks go.
I’ve been at this a very long time and never have I seen so many candidates doing so much to alienate so many. It’s like the NFL’s NFC South division in 2014: everyone was awful but somebody had to come in first because the rules said so.
Still, Johnson’s hiccups could help Trump. If there are, as Trump himself says, people who won’t publicly admit voting for him but will anyway, even more may be minted if the Johnson/Weld ticket keeps taking a “Thanks, but we don’t want your votes either” approach with disgruntled Republicans. The people who really hate both Trump and Hillary are locked in. The wiggle room is in the disaffected GOP slice of the electorate that will finally succumb to all of the Supreme Court panic, hold out as long as they possibly can to give themselves a false sense of moral superiority, then hop on the Trump Train as they enter the booth.
It’s not really a plan, but those don’t seem to be fashionable this year.