Libertarian Johnson polling better than any 3rd-party candidate since Perot

The 2012 Libertarian candidate for president, Gary Johnson, is showing surprising strength in early polls against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Johnson received less than 1% of the vote in 2012, but he got 1.2 million votes – a Libertarian party record.  He is vying for the nomination against two lesser known candidates – radio talker and activist Austin Peterson and former fugitive John McAfee.

But with the strong negative feelings by voters against both Trump and Clinton, Johnson, if he gets the nomination, has an opportunity to upend the race.  He is currently polling at 10%, which is the best showing by a third-party candidate since Ross Perot in 1996.

Five Thrity Eight:

In early May 1968, George Wallace, whose candidacy as a third-party candidate running on what can politely be called an anti-civil rights message has been much-talked about this year, got 14 percent in a Harris Survey as well as in a Gallup poll; he eventually won nearly 14 percent of the national vote.

The most serious third-party candidate in recent memory was Ross Perot, who third-wheeled his way onto the political stage in 1992 and 1996, eventually taking 19 percent and 8 percent of the national vote in those respective years. In May of 1992, Perot, a former businessman, was polling gangbusters; a Gallup poll found him at 35 percent and an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey had him at 30 percent. Perot entered the race in February of that year, a few weeks after the county was initiated to the first of Bill Clinton’s sex scandals, and in the midst of a tough economy for President George H.W. Bush — plenty of voters were looking for other options. Four years later, he was still polling well for a third-party candidate, but not nearly at his 1992 levels: May polls (not to be confused withmaypoles) had Perot at 17 percent (ABC/Washington Post), 12 percent (NBC/Wall Street Journal), and 10 percent (Gallup1).

But that was the ‘90s, back before most of us in the interior of the country had ever even seen an avocado let alone mashed it up on toast. How have third-party candidates polled recently? Johnson ran as the Libertarian candidate in 2012, and won about 1 percent of the national vote, becoming the most successful Libertarian candidate ever; in polls done in May and June of 2012, he was polling at 2 percent. Bob Barr, the Libertarian nominee in 2008, also polled at 2 percent in the late spring of that year.

Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, may not be the most dynamic candidate in the race, but he has experience running a national campaign and may have access to some big donors.  His pick for vice president, former Massachusetts governor William Weld, was the attorney for casino mogul Steve Wynn, who is likely to back the Libertarian candidate this election cycle.  Considering that Johnson raised only $2 million in 2012, a big infusion of cash into his campaign would certainly make him more visible and potentially competitive in some states.

The question of whom he would draw more votes from, Republicans or Democrats, is unanswerable at this point.  Conventional wisdom says he would take far more Republican votes away from Trump.  But this election is different.  It is shaping up to be a non-ideological election, so Johnson has the potential to take a rougly equal number of voters from both sides. 

What usually happens with third-party candidates is that they poll well in the spring and the summer and then fade away to nothing in the fall.  But nothing about this race is "usual," which is why the Libertarian Party convention next month bears watching.

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