Gary Johnson: Spoiler?

The Libertarian Party's Presidential candidate could prove decisive in determining who wins the Electoral College.

The new CNN/ORC poll finds at least some evidence that Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson could have a spoiler effect in an election that remains very close:

Washington (CNN) - Gary Johnson’s poll numbers may not give him much-of-a shot at winning the presidency, but in the latest CNN/ORC Poll, he is registering enough of a following to possibly tip the balance in an increasingly close election.

Three percent of likely voters responded that they would vote for Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for president, in November. That number is slightly higher among registered voters, with 4% identifying with the former governor of New Mexico.

The poll also finds that Johnson’s inclusion, along with the Green Party’s candidate Jill Stein, hurts Republican candidate Mitt Romney more than it does President Barack Obama.

Obama leads Romney 52% to 46% when Romney and Obama are the only candidates in question, but Romney’s support goes down three percentage points with the inclusion of the third party candidates. Obama’s support only drops one point.

“The inclusion of the two minor-party candidates turns a six-point margin for President Obama into an eight-point lead,” said Keating Holland, CNN’s Polling Director. Since third party candidates are typically not on the ballot in all 50 states, those numbers can be slight deceiving when relating them to the support the candidates will receive on Election Day.

(…)

The Johnson campaign says they don’t see their candidacy as a Republican spoiler and argues that the Johnson’s appeal is more important when looked at on a state-by-state.

“Generally, in places like Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada,” said Joe Hunter, Johnson campaign spokesperson, “it appears that Governor Johnson’s appeal comes from folks that supported Obama in 2008 and are now disillusioned with the president.”

He continued: “Who cares if Johnson takes votes from Romney in California?”

Johnson is running a largely outsiders campaign and has actively been looking to pull votes from the Romney and Obama base. In the last two weeks, he attended rallies in both Tampa, Florida – the site of the Republican National Convention – and Charlotte, North Carolina – the site of the Democrats convention.

The campaign has also put a great deal of focus on courting former Ron Paul supporters since the ardently supported libertarian stopped his campaign for the Republican nomination. Johnson spoke at a Paul rally in Tampa and Hunter argues that they are making in roads among the typically loyal Paul supporters.

There is at least some support for the Johnson’s campaign’s argument that they don’t draw exclusively from Republicans when you look at the state-level polls. In New Mexico, where Johnson served as Governor for eight years and where he garners his highest name recognition and likability ratings, a recent PPP Poll [PDF] showed the race at Obama 49% – Romney 44% when only the two major party candidates are included. When Johnson’s name is added to the mix, here’s what it looks like:

  • Obama – 42%
  • Romney – 38%
  • Johnson 13%

To a large degree, it appears that Johnson draws nearly equally from both Romney and Obama here, with slightly more Democratic-inclined voters jumping to Johnson if he’s included in the ballot. Of course, the views may be skewed here by the fact that Johnson was Governor of the state.  One finds similar results in a recent poll by the Albuquerque Journal. Heading north to Colorado, we find another PPP Poll that shows the race at Obama 49% – Romney 46% if only the two are included in the poll, and Obama 46% – Romney 44% – Johnson 5%. Again, here it seems as though Johnson is drawing equally from both Obama and Romney, and I’d expect that you’d see the same thing in other swing states such as Virginia.

Of the two states, Colorado is quite obviously the one that could have a real impact on the race. The days of New Mexico being a real swing state seem to be gone, at least for now. If Johnson performs well enough in Colorado, though, to keep Romney from winning there, than that’s 9 Electoral Votes that are out of reach for him, which could be significant in a year where the election is likely to be very close. Johnson will be on the ballot in at least 47 states in November. In three states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma  — his presence on the ballot is being challenged by the respective state Republican Party which, in and of itself, should probably tell you something.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    I think that, in general, support for third party candidates mostly evaporates on Election day. It is a lot easier to register a protest vote to a pollster than to actually throw away your vote when it counts.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    It’s sweet how every year the LP tries to convince people it matters.

  3. stonetools says:

    If Johnson is a spoiler for anyone, it will be for Romney. So, spoil on, Gary J. My wish is that he will be as to Romney as Nader was to Gore.

  4. Rob in CT says:

    Doug…

    Huzzah, a Gary Johnson post. But wait, it’s all about how he could be a spoiler?

    You’re a likely Johnson voter, as am I (for admittedly somewhat different reasons). How about talking about his policy positions and whatnot?

    Or is he just this little sideshow curiousity candidate (truthful answer: yeah, probably, but if you’re gonna vote for him in a swing state shouldn’t you maybe make the case for him?)?

  5. Al says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If they keep up this trend of not nominating people that are crazy, racists or crazy racists they just might.

  6. Barry says:

    A decent post, Doug – not great, but with some actual facts and suchlike.

    However, I have to second Tano here.

    A good follow-up would be to compare LP polled vs actual vote % for 2008 and before.
    My guess is that the LP has yet to flip a state. As Michael said, the LP wants to matter, but really doesn’t.

  7. Tano says:

    My guess is that the LP has yet to flip a state. As Michael said, the LP wants to matter, but really doesn’t.

    This points, of course, to the fundamental problem with third parties. They are not relevant unless they have an actual effect, but the only effect that is open to them is to flip a state from the major party candidate they are actually closer to, to the one that they are further from.
    See Nader, Florida, 2000.

    Third parties are just a really bad idea. Third-party-type movements should focus on taking over one of the major parties. As the examples of Obama as an individual, or the Tea Party as a movement show, the major parties are both ripe for being taken over by energetic outsiders. I always felt that if Nader had run an aggressive, but honorable campaign in the Democratic primaries in 2000, he would have been the frontrunner for 2004 if Gore had gone on to lose anyway (which I dont think he would have). In any case, Nader would have been a major player on the political left and would have had the opportunity to advance many of his ideas, rather than being a forgotten outcast. (actually, outcast is not the right word – he cast himself out – most in the party wanted him in the tent).

  8. Facebones says:

    Gary Johnson would have more of an impact if he ran for a congressional seat or a senate seat in New Mexico. There’s probably a house seat he could win as a libertarian. Then, he’d have a platform to express his views on a national stage via legislation rather than being protest vote.

  9. Ben Wolf says:

    Still haven’t decided between Johnson or Jill Stein. Anyone else?

  10. Todd says:

    Purely anecdotal, but a month or so ago, I did one of those isidewith.com polls and shared it with my Facebook friends. It was interesting to see how many people who had Gary Johnson as their 1st or 2nd pick could be so different when it came to the major party candidate who they also agreed with most. It was nearly evenly split between Romney and Obama supporters.

    I was 88% Johnson, but 82% Obama. While I had another friend who had a nearly identical percentage for Johnson, but who’s support for Romney was also about 80%. On purely economic issues, Johnson will appeal to conservatives … but when it comes to virtually anything else, a case could be made that he’s actually to the left of Obama.

  11. You can vote Johnson, or stay home and crack a beer. Same result.

  12. Franklin says:

    @Tano: You are correct. I used to vote third party when I was younger. Every single time, my hopefulness at seeing polls with mild results was demolished when election results were announced and the candidates usually ended up with less than 1% of the vote. There should be a name for this effect.

  13. Ben says:

    @Tano:

    Third parties are just a really bad idea. Third-party-type movements should focus on taking over one of the major parties. As the examples of Obama as an individual, or the Tea Party as a movement show, the major parties are both ripe for being taken over by energetic outsiders.

    Since neither party gives even token support to civil liberties anymore, nor to any possibility of actually doing anything substantive to end the war on drugs (the two issues that I care about deeply that make me want to support Johnson), I don’t think that strategy is going to work, at all.

  14. Rick Almeida says:

    @Tano:

    Third-party-type movements should focus on taking over one of the major parties.

    It’s just so unlikely – there are not enough voters in the tails of the ideological distribution or motivated by issues neglected by the major parties to make such a takeover more than remotely possible. When a neglected issue arises, one of the major parties can simply co-opt it and incorporate it into its positioning.

  15. Tano says:

    @Ben:

    Ben,

    I suspect that neither party supports your causes because the American people, in general, do not support your causes. If the people supported the causes, the parties would too, since they are always trying to align themselves with the opinions of majorities, or at least significant pluralities – because they need that in order to win elections, and thus power.

    So your task would seem to be to find a way to persuade more voters to care about the things that you care about. How can you best do that? As someone who publicly aligns with a fringe movement that average folks will find it very very easy to ignore? Or to get inside the tent and to make your arguments to people who consider you part of their larger team?

  16. Tano says:

    @Rick Almeida:

    It’s just so unlikely…

    I don’t understand your thinking here. You acknowledge that the major parties can, and do simply scarf up popular, but neglected ideas and make them part of their platform. That is a good thing – it is exactly what I am talking about. The major party takes over the issue – or the issue advocates take over the party – it amounts to the same thing.

    I have seen in my lifetime the Democratic party, the traditional party of slavery and apartheid, be taken over by integrationists. Or did the party simply coopt civil rights? Its two sides of the same coin – bottom line is that the issue was taken up, championed by one party and pushed through to victory. Women’s issues, gay rights, other minority rights, environmental issues, consumer issues, or, with the other party, political christianity, social conservatism, anti-tax radicalism…all these issues could well have been the foundation of a third party (and some were), but all were championed eventually by one of the main parties.

    That is the healthy manner in which issues can be developed and eventually implemented or rejected, as per the ultimate judgement of the people. The two parties represent the “finals” in the tournament of politics, be it for the candidates themselves or for the airing of issues. To isolate an issue or a candidate in a third party is to remove them from the processes in place to build majority coalitions.

    That is not good for the issues involved and it has the potential for leading to aberrant and illegitimate outcomes for the larger process.

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The only wasted vote is a vote not used. Fwck ya all, Doug votes/
    I for one live in the bible belt… I don’t know why I vote….

    accept I can..

  18. Rick Almeida says:

    @Tano:

    I have seen in my lifetime the Democratic party, the traditional party of slavery and apartheid, be taken over by integrationists.

    That’s sort of true. Remember that the two main pieces of 1960s civil rights legislation were passed by northern Democrats and Republicans against Southern Democratic opposition, which lead to Nixon repositioning the Republican party to capture disaffected white Southern Democrats.

    In any event, when I said “co-opt”, I meant that the major parties can and do position themselves to pay lip service to some issues to attract the small numbers of voters who might otherwise be tempted to vote for minor party candidates.

    There simply aren’t enough Libertarians or Greens, to name just two, to exert any real influence over a major party. Ideology is roughly normally distributed, and the two major parties position themselves to the left and right of the median, and that doesn’t leave enough folks in the tails.

  19. JohnMcC says:

    As best as I can recall, the Florida election of 2000 could have ended differently if either of two things had happened. Either the Miami area (mostly Jewish) vote for Buchanon had been re-directed to Mr Gore…. OR…. one tenth of the Floridians who voted for Mr Nader had instead voted for Mr Gore. If either event happened, we’d have had President Gore making post-9/11 decisions and dealing with the budget and financial de-regulation. Etc, etc….

    From now on, minor candidates will really really have to justify themselves to me. And ballots should be designed to make their minor-party/protest-vote nature completely clear.

  20. Curtis says:

    @Tano: No offense, but I cannot possibly imagine a world in which Nader had been the frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination for President in 2004 or any other year.

    I am not saying this is a good or a bad thing, but in a field with established, mainstream, politicians who had been governors, senators, and leaders in the House, I don’t care how honorably he had run, he wouldn’t have gotten to critical mass.

    That being said, he might have forced Gore to be a little more liberal to fight Nader off of his left flank, and if he could have done that while bowing out gracefully when it was time, then he could have had a more positive impact. But I don’t think there is any reasonable path to the nomination for Nader at any point.

  21. Rob in CT says:

    No offense, but I cannot possibly imagine a world in which Nader had been the frontrunner for the Democratic Party nomination for President in 2004 or any other year.

    Seriously. At best, he could possibly have led some version of a Paulite faction that could have gotten… minor concessions in the platform, ala the Paulites this year?

    he might have forced Gore to be a little more liberal to fight Nader off of his left flank, and if he could have done that while bowing out gracefully when it was time, then he could have had a more positive impact

    That’s a lot more plausible.

  22. John says:

    I live(d) in the 8th district where we got Joe Walsh due to the third party. The founding fathers wanted two parties, not bought off, to work together for the good of the country and the people. Instead, mitt sits in a boat flying Cayman Island flag and Obama can not afford to lose any votes as the right is going at it with the same zeal seen in the twenties in a country in Europe… I like Johnson, but he has to understand his impact will not be for the good.

  23. Colleen McCool says:

    Obama and Romney have forsaken the American Dream. A declaration is an affirmation. Independence means self-government. They could have called The Declaration of Independence, The Affirmation of Self-Government!

    Gary Johnson and Judge Jim Gray are the only choice to Save the American Dream: Self-Government , freedom from big government tyranny and oppression…. and to Restore Justice, the guardian of Liberty!

  24. Rick Almeida says:

    @John:

    The founding fathers wanted two parties, not bought off, to work together for the good of the country and the people.

    They wanted no such thing. Most deplored “factions” as inevitable but a problem to be contained. The two-party dynamic is solely a function of our electoral system. It’s Duverger’s Law.

  25. @Franklin:

    It does not have a name, but it’s a well understood statistical problem regarding the measurement of candidate support that is far from 50%. I wrote about it here
    http://www.samefacts.com/2012/07/polling/why-polls-of-third-party-candidate-support-are-usually-wrong/