As Johnson Loses Ground and Trump Self Destructs, Clinton Gains Big
Policy + Politics

As Johnson Loses Ground and Trump Self Destructs, Clinton Gains Big


Gary Johnson’s steady stream of bone-headed comments appears to be catching up with him as the Libertarian Party nominee has begun to seriously falter in the polls.

Johnson, the former businessman and two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, had set off alarm bells in the Clinton campaign as he drained support away from Democratic presidential nominee. His support had grown among independents, young people and disenchanted Democrats and Republicans looking for an alternative to Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Related: Johnson Says the GOP and Democrats Are ‘Dinosaurs’ Headed for Extinction

Although he has consistently fallen well short of the 15-percent threshold in average national polling needed to take part in the nationally televised presidential debates, Johnson has loomed as a spoiler, especially in a few battleground states that Clinton must carry to defeat Trump in November. 

But Johnson’s third-party mini-surge began to subside after a remarkable recent string of verbal blunders, including his inability to identify Syria’s war torn city of Aleppo, his confusion over the details of terrorist attacks in the U.S., and his failure to name a single foreign leader he admires without prompting.

On Friday, a new Quinnipiac University national poll showed Johnson falling further behind, while Clinton – still beaming from her thumping of Trump in the first presidential debate two weeks ago – claimed a five-point lead over Trump, 45 percent to 40 percent. Johnson attracted just six percent of likely voters, barely ahead of Green Party nominee Jill Stein with three percent.

The latest polling results confirms a continued turn around in the race in favor of Clinton since shortly before the first presidential debate in mid-September when Clinton and Trump were virtually deadlocked. Trump led 42 percent to 35 percent among independent voters, while Johnson was attracting 15 percent in Quinnipiac’s survey in September. Now the tables have turned and Clinton leads Trump among independents, 46 percent to 32 percent, while Johnson’s support among the unaligned voting bloc dropped to just 10 percent.

“The biggest shift is among independent voters,” according to the Quinnipiac analysis. Meanwhile, Republicans back Trump 87 percent to five percent while Democrats back Clinton, 89 percent to three percent.

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“Post-debate, Hillary Clinton checks all the boxes,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, in a statement. “With her base of women and non-white voters now solidly behind her, and independent voters moving into her column, Donald Trump gets a wake-up call. "The Indies are leaving in droves. Can Trump make a come-back in Sunday's debate or will Clinton score another W?"

Johnson’s success alarmed many Democrats who feared a reprise of the 2000 election, when consumer advocate Ralph Nader ran as the Green Party nominee and proved a factor in helping Republican George W. Bush defeat Democratic Vice President Al Gore in the general election.  Johnson is on track to vastly exceed his showing in the 2012 campaign when he received barely one percent of the vote. This time around, he is currently polling at about 7 percent nationally. But he is doing better in a small handful of swing states, including Ohio, and could influence the outcome in the states, one way or another.

Clinton has benefitted from Johnson’s verbal missteps and decline, and she has nearly doubled her lead over Trump in the RealClearPolitics average over the past three weeks. According to the latest compilation, Clinton is leading Trump nationally by an average of 44.1 percent to 40.9 percent, with Johnson at 6.5 percent and Stein at 2.3 percent. Trump, meanwhile, has been hit with a series of controversies, including his failed business deals, the likelihood he hasn’t paid federal income taxes in over 18 years and his unflattering and vulgar sexual comments about women.

Related: Libertarian Gary Johnson Scores a Major Victory in His White House Bid

If he fails to bounce back against Clinton in tonight’s second presidential debate, the race may well be over – regardless of how well or poorly Johnson ultimately performs.