Gary Johnson Polls: 15 Percent Debate Cutoff In Reach? Sites Told To Prepare Third Podium Alongside Clinton, Trump

Polls show Libertarian Party 2016 presidential nominee Gary Johnson performing better than any "third party" candidate since billionaire businessman Ross Perot, who did well enough in the polls to win a place on the debate stage in 1992, alongside Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican George H.W. Bush, then the incumbent president.

But Gary Johnson is not a billionaire. Instead, the 63-year-old is the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, who switched in 2012 to the Libertarian Party and ran as its nominee that year.

But against President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, Johnson was unable to draw significant attention, and never made an impact on the 2012 race.

In 2016, conditions have changed. With Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump carrying net negative favorability ratings, the field seems more inviting for Johnson to push his way to the polling percentage cutoff required to become the first candidate from outside of the two major parties to take a place on the presidential debate stage since Perot did it 24 years and five elections ago.

Gary Johnson appeared on MSNBC Thursday, August 11, to make his case for earning an invitation to the debates, as seen in the video below.

Independent candidate John Anderson, who had run as a liberal Republican in the 1980 primaries, is the only other alternative candidate to poll high enough to take part in presidential debates, taking a podium on the same stage with then-incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter and Republican challenger Ronald Reagan.

What are the requirements for Gary Johnson, or any candidate including Trump or Clinton, to qualify for the debates, which are scheduled for September 26, October 9, and October 19 this year?

According to the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which sets the schedule and rules, a candidate must be on the ballot in all 50 states, a requirement that Johnson has already met.

But more difficult, and the challenge for Gary Johnson, a candidate must score an average of 15 percent support in a selection of major polls — a selection decided upon by the commission.

While the commission has not yet announced which polls it will survey to determine whether or not Johnson, as well as Green Party nominee Jill Stein, have reached that 15 percent cutoff, in 2012 it relied on polls sponsored by the four major TV networks, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox, as well as the time-honored Gallup poll.

Assuming that the same polls will be used to determine eligibility in 2016, how is Gary Johnson faring so far?

In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, Gary Johnson recorded 8 percent of total voter support, compared to 45 percent for frontrunner Hillary Clinton, with Trump trailing Clinton by an eight-point margin at 35 percent. Jill Stein sits at 4 percent.

According to the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Gary Johnson also come in a distant third, with 10 percent, while he also polls at 10 percent in the newest CBS News poll, and Fox has Gary Johnson at a relatively impressive 12 percent.

The Gallup organization has not yet polled the presidential race with Gary Johnson included. But among the other four polls, Gary Johnson is now averaging 10 percent support — strong for a "third party" candidate, but still well shy of the 15 percent needed to get him on the debate stage.

According to the weighted polling average of all polls compiled by the respected statistical site, Gary Johnson now stands at 8.2 percent, while the Real Clear Politics average puts the Libertarian at 9 percent and the Huffington Post average places Johnson at 8.9 percent.

Those averages, well short of 15 percent, come after Johnson and his vice-presidential running mate William Weld (pictured, left, at the top of this page) — a former two-term Republican governor of Massachusetts — received national exposure from not one, but two Town Hall specials on the cable TV news network, CNN.

Fox Business Network will give Johnson, Weld, and the Libertarian Party more airtime, hosting a Town Hall of its own later in August.


And while Gary Johnson will need a surge in popularity over the next month to reach the 15 percent level to qualify for the presidential debates, the Commission on Presidential Debates is taking no chances. According to the online magazine Politico, the commission has already instructed the three universities hosting the debates to prepare a third podium on stage, to get ready for the Libertarian to join Trump and Clinton.

[Photo By George Frey/Getty Images]