Election 2016: How This Guy You’ve Never Heard of Could Shake Up the Presidential Race

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Gary Johnson

The 2016 election is all about frustration — with politics, with people running for office, with Democrats and Republicans alike. Irritation with politics as usual fueled the rise of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and sustained Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ so-called political revolution deep into the Democratic Party’s primary.

Voters seem primed for someone who is outside of the traditional system. Of the most recent presidential elections, this year could provide the best opening for a viable third-party candidate.

Enter Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s 2016 presidential candidate. As the InsideGov visualization shows, Johnson hovers at around 9 percent as of June 20.

A popular two-term governor out of New Mexico, Johnson first entered politics in 1994 as part of the Republican Party. But his views have always hinged on libertarian principles of limited government and tax cuts. “My overriding philosophy is the common-sense business approach to state government, period. Best product, best service, lowest price,” Johnson told the libertarian magazine Reason during a 2001 interview.

Johnson’s 2016 campaign builds on his success in New Mexico, where a local reporter described him as “arguably the most popular governor of the decade.” Interest in and media visibility around his campaign has increased in recent months, as conservatives have expressed dislike of Trump, and Sanders’ chances at the nomination have diminished.

Although Johnson’s 9 percent polling average puts him almost 26 points behind Trump, that 9 percent is significant for a couple of reasons. First of all, the rulemaking organization for the presidential debates stipulates that candidates need to have at least a 15 percent average in national polls in order to participate in the debates.

That 15 percent rule has kept many third-party candidates off the main debate stage, significantly decreasing their visibility with a larger audience. When Ross Perot ran as an Independent in 1992, for example, his polling numbers were high enough that he participated in the general election debates. He ended up winning close to 19 percent of the popular vote that year, the best showing for a third-party candidate since the early 1900s.

For his part, Johnson needs to peel away just 6 more points in the coming months to make him eligible for a showing at the debates.

The polling data also shows Johnson already is on a number of voters’ radar. The average puts him at 9 percent, but he notched 11 percent in a Monmouth University poll in March and 12 percent in a Fox News poll in early June.

Without a doubt, Johnson has an uphill battle when it comes to educating Americans about his presidential campaign. That’s especially true this cycle, with Trump and Hillary Clinton — who have loads of name recognition after years in the public eye — grabbing headlines and capturing the public’s attention. Johnson’s 9 percent (or even 11 or 12 percent) has to be a jumping-off point for an earnest ground game and well-defined campaign strategy.

But there is a possibility that Johnson could get an assist from how much people know about Trump and Clinton. Both candidates suffer from historically high unfavorable marks. The visualization below shows net favorability, which is each candidate’s favorable rating minus the unfavorable rating.

As of June 19, both Clinton and Trump are in double-digit negatives. While that could indicate the 2016 presidential contest will be an in-the-gutter race to the bottom, alternatively, it could provide a window of opportunity for a third-party candidate.

Indeed, polling data indicates a chunk of Americans still haven’t decided which candidate to support come November, with 17 percent undecided.

Another opportunity for Johnson’s campaign? Independent voters especially haven’t decided who to vote for in the general, with 26 percent saying they are undecided. That’s a lot of people, when considering how many Americans identify as “political independents.” According to a Gallup survey from January 2016, 42 percent of American adults consider themselves independents and don’t affiliate with either the Republican Party or Democratic Party.

Trump continues to do well with this voting bloc, amassing 37 percent among independents. In order to make a play for the White House, Johnson would need to stanch the flow of that support toward Trump while collecting some of those undecideds.

But if the independent voters supporting Trump are looking for a candidate new to politics, that could thwart Johnson’s general election campaign before it gets too far off the ground. While Johnson identifies with the Libertarian Party, he has been in politics since the mid-1990s.

Johnson also scores quite moderate on political issues — another selling point for the 42 percent of voters who don’t identify with a specific party. He is straight-down-the-middle on individual rights and defense issues, and a bit more conservative on domestic and economic issues. The visualization below reflects data from OnTheIssues, where scores of -10 to -1 are considered liberal and scores of 1 to 10 are considered conservative.

Johnson supports abortion rights and marriage equality, but not government-imposed regulations on the environment. He has said the so-called war on drugs was “a miserable failure.” He is a staunch supporter of gun rights, and strongly favors immigration reform. He opposes stimulus policies and tax hikes, does not want to grow the military and supports free trade. He does not think the U.S. should get overly involved in international affairs.

In many ways, Johnson reflects the socially liberal, fiscally conservative perspectives that many Americans — especially younger voters — say they hold.

This also isn’t Johnson’s first foray on the national stage, which could help his prospects. In 2008, Johnson actively supported a fellow libertarian-leaning Republican for president, Texas Rep. Ron Paul. But in 2012, Johnson mounted a presidential campaign of his own, first as a Republican and then as the Libertarian Party’s candidate. He finished that race with just shy of 1 percent, but got 1,275,923 votes — the highest number of votes ever cast for a Libertarian candidate.

The big question is whether he can build on that success this election. For a point of reference, a Gallup poll from June 2012 had Johnson at 3 percent. As of June 2016, he’s already at 9 percent.

More: Donald Trump Down in the Polls After Rough Week on the Trail

Follow InsideGov on Twitter: @inside_gov

Research More About Presidential Candidates

Haute Tease

  • Donald Trump Wins The Presidency In A Shocking Upset

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Donald Trump, the New York Businessman, who saw his campaign implode over the past few weeks, surprised the world with an impressive upset winning 276 electoral votes in a stunning victory over Democratic Challenger Hillary Clinton.

  • US Markets Struggle; World Markets Fall Sharply

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The Dow Jones Industrial struggled throughout the week, laboring as the market limped along throughout the first full week in August cooling the New York Stock Exchange as the DOW attempted to stay above the mid 16,000.

  • NYBFW '18 Morilee Presents The Muse Collection By Madeline Gardner – Timeless, Elegant, Beautiful

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Recognized for her beautiful ball gowns and dreamy detailing Madeline Gardner presented a collection full of fun and flirty pieces; Featuring gowns adorned with feathers, corseted bodices, lovely laces and unique floral details.

  • Beltway Insider: Russia Engages U.S. Warship; Maintains Ukraine Initiative; Boston Marathon Anniversary; Pot Pardon

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Escalating tensions between the United States and Russia came to a boil this week as a Russian fighter jet engaged in provocative taunting action against the USS Donald Cook, a missile destroyer, sailing in Black Sea international waters.

  • Beltway Insider: Obama/Syrian Policy Failure; Gun Violence; Election 2016; Bill Cosby

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    President Barack Obama has returned to Washington from his Holiday and is eager and energized to begin his last year in office moving ahead with the Gun Violence issue he has indicated the intent to announce Executive Order action.

  • Celebrity Interviews: Directors Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin Talk on The Making of "I Can Only Imagine"

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    I Can Only Imagine, directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin, has, since its mid-march release, been breaking performance expectations and now as it begins its second month in theaters is closing in on the 100MM dollar mark.

  • The Meyerowitz Stories Review - Flawless, Dynamic, Character Driven Performances

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The Meyerowitz Stories, from IAC Film and Netflix, presents life in Manhattan for three generations of the Jewish, dysfunctional, blended family who are coping with the transitions of life and are suddenly catapulted into decision makers.

  • Phantom Review – A Cold War Cat and Mouse Thriller

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    “Phantom,” from Trilogy Entertainment and Anchor Bay Entertainment, brings the 1960’s Cold War back into mainstream with a high stakes, cat and mouse, mind manipulation, circumventing chase that is engrossing from the beginning.

  • Iron Horse Toasts Diversity with Rainbow Cuvee

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Sebastopol, CA., March 12, 2014 - Iron Horse Vineyards announces the March 17, 2014 release of a new, limited edition, vintage Sparkling Wine called Rainbow Cuvée, available at the winery and on the Iron Horse website.

  • Hey, You're That Guy: Actor, Comedian John Ennis

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Hollywood has launched a thousand careers, and among them are the many extremely talented character actors and comedians we’ve watched for years and whose nuanced performances knock us on our asses every time we see them. Just the sight of them elicits responses like, “Hey, I love that guy! Wasn't he in that one movie? You know the one. What is that guy's name?”

  • Diann Valentine, Celebrity Wedding and Interior Designer, Offers Tips On Spicing Up Your Home for Spring

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Diann Valentine, a vibrant and dynamic keynote speaker, television personality, internationally acclaimed wedding, event and interior designer is continuing to impress with a portfolio that commands attention she is bringing her eponymous brand to special occasion styling everywhere.

  • HL London: The Underground Music Scene Presents SeaWitches

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Based in Liverpool, Jo Herring and Laura Caldwell met in 2007 through friends; a meeting that resulted in an explosion of creativity where songwriting, musicianship and visual art collided to create SeaWitches.

  • Beltway Insider: Obama/Israel; Putin/Trump; Welcome 2017; Istanbul; Queen Elizabeth; Debbie Reynolds/Carrie Fisher

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    President Obama has not backed away from his resolution to hold Israel to a two-state solution even as Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has moved to reassess the nation's relationship with the United Nations and the United States.

  • Ex-Machina Review – Edgy Sci-Fi Tech Thriller Engages At Enter

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Ex-Machina, from DNA Films and Universal Pictures International, brings to the screen, a sci-fi thriller woven together with a contemporary tech drama introducing the next phase of the extremely secretive and highly sensitive Artificial Intelligent program to the world.

  • Beltway Insider: NATO Summit; Iraqi ISIS/ISIL Syrian; Ebola Numbers; Al-Qaida Operative Dead

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    President Obama traveled to Wales, United Kingdom, for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit where he met with world leaders from the twenty-eight member nations to discuss the challenges and direction of the 65 year-old organization.