Could Libertarian Gary Johnson Play the Spoiler in November?
Policy + Politics

Could Libertarian Gary Johnson Play the Spoiler in November?

REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the nominee of the Libertarian Party, has wasted little time making a mark in the presidential campaign. And so far, at least, his third-party candidacy appears to be playing to the advantage of former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Johnson, of course, has no chance of winning the election and at best will appear on the ballot in just 32 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. But in a tough general election campaign in which Clinton and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump both suffer from historically high negative ratings among voters, Johnson has the potential of playing spoiler or kingmaker by mustering even a modest showing among libertarians and disaffected Republicans and Democrats.

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A new national poll of registered Republicans and Democrats by Fox News shows Johnson already a factor in the campaign, drawing 12 percent of the overall vote. His double-digit showing shortly after claiming the Libertarian Party nomination is far better than most of the former Republican candidates could muster before Trump closed the door on the GOP nomination.

Clinton leads Trump in the poll by the narrow margin of 39 percent to 36 percent, or well within the poll’s four-point margin of error. This spread is similar to the results of previous head-to-head matchups, according to the Real Clear Politics composite average. But the telling development is that Johnson appears to have served as a drag on support for Trump, who lost about six percentage points since the last Fox New survey three weeks ago.

With Johnson out of the race, Clinton prevails over Trump, 42 percent to 39 percent. But both candidates continue to be viewed negatively by large swaths of voters. Fifty-eight percent of voters have a negative view of Trump, which is just slightly worse than Clinton’s 56 percent negative rating.

Johnson, 63, is running on a ticket with Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts Republican governor who has alienated many libertarians with his past opposition to legalizing marijuana.

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Johnson, a former Republican governor, has run once before for president, and espouses many of the same views as Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the runner-up to Clinton in a hard-fought Democratic primary season.

On the politically explosive issue of immigration, Johnson supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a deal-breaker for conservative Republicans but approved by most Democrats. He is pro-choice, he vigorously backs same-sex marriage, he favors equal pay for equal work and he would decriminalize marijuana.

Like Sanders, Johnson is wary of further U.S. entanglements overseas. But unlike Sanders, who favors taxing the rich to finance a social revolution of free college tuition and national health care, Johnson is vehemently anti-tax. He has said that he would sign virtually any tax cut measure that crossed his desk.

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Johnson’s 12 percent showing in the Fox News poll was a “decent showing for a candidate that most voters don’t know, or don’t know is a former governor, or don’t know is a presidential candidate,” David Weigel wrote in The Washington Post. But if Johnson is to become a real factor this year, he will have to continue to be included in prominent national polls and move up to 15 percent or better in order to qualify for inclusion in the fall presidential debates.