Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are both polling at record numbers for the Libertarian and Green parties, respectively. As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both gear up for the final stretch of the 2016 election season, voters disappointed in both establishment candidates are looking for third-party alternatives, and this may be the year that a third party candidate actually makes a splash in the presidential election.
As recently as this week, Johnson was polling at around 11 percent, according to Red State, while Slate reports that Jill Stein is polling “in the low single digits.” While those numbers may not seem particularly impressive compared to Clinton’s and Trump’s poll numbers, they are downright astronomical compared to how either candidate fared in 2012, when both ran as their party’s nominee.
Both candidates are capitalizing on the voters’ dislike of the major-party candidates. Trump and Clinton have failed to fully secure their parties’ bases, and both are polarizing figures who draw nothing short of open hatred from their opponents’ bases.
On the Republican side, by some observations, it seems that Donald Trump’s candidacy is threatening the very existence of the Republican Party beyond 2016. Ted Cruz famously declined to support his party’s nominee, and he did so from the very floor of the Republican convention, no less. In a move that demolished any hope for party unity, more than one prominent Republican, including Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney have publicly stated they’re considering voting for Gary Johnson this time around.
Jill Stein, meanwhile, has been presenting herself as the leftist alternative to disappointed Bernie Sanders supporters who can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary. She even showed up at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, according to Slate, to carry on a sort-of alternative convention to bring Sanders supporters to her cause.
What this narrative fails to consider is that Johnson’s Libertarian platform appeals to voters on both sides of the aisle, while Jill Stein’s Green Party platform appeals only to the left.
Some of Stein’s positions, including banning neonicotinoids (pesticides that kill bees and wasps) and federal funding for naturopathic and other alternative medicines, are so far to the left that even Sanders supporters are scratching their heads. Clearly, there’s nothing in her platform that could appeal to any except the most left-leaning Republican refugees.
Johnson, on the other hand, has a platform that holds appeal to both disappointed Republicans and disappointed Democrats. His brand of fiscal conservatism (cut wasteful government spending and lower taxes) combined with a socially liberal platform (legalizing marijuana, same-sex marriage, abortion rights) appeals to both red and blue voters.
This positions Gary Johnson as the most viable third-party candidate unless the country turns drastically to the left in the next few months. Interestingly, it also puts him in the position of having a very real shot at the White House, if the following unlikely but not unfathomable situation occurs.
Should neither Trump nor Clinton earn 270 electoral votes, the amount needed to secure the White House, the vote for president falls to the House of Representatives. If that happens, Johnson could theoretically emerge as a compromise candidate who could, once elected President, appeal to both sides of the aisle and work with both parties.
Of course, as of this writing, the idea of Gary Johnson or Jill Stein ever seeing the inside of the White House as anything other than a tourist or guest is, at best, remote. But as more disappointed voters look to third party alternatives, 2016 may be the year when American finally warms up to the idea of third parties.
[AP Photo/John Minchillo, AP Photo/John Raoux]