Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson has seen a huge surge in his social media following over the past month. As Johnson presses to raise his polling average to the 15 percent qualifying cutoff that would win him a place on the presidential debate stage alongside Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, there appears to be at least some evidence that his newfound popularity on Facebook could help him reach that goal.
The 15 percent threshold still remains a long shot for Johnson, the 66-year-old former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico who switched to the Libertarian Party for his initial presidential run in 2012. In most of the respected polling averages, his support continues to hover just below 9 percent.
Hard work is paying off for Gary Johnson – Facebook election data shows third-party candidates are gaining steam https://t.co/TNSEDgN6JK
— Team GarJo (@TeamGarJo) August 18, 2016
In the Real Clear Politics average, the latest polls put Johnson at 8.6 percent — a number that represents a slight bump after a Pew Research poll showed him with 10 percent support — while the Huffington Post Pollster average places him at 8.8 percent, still trailing “undecided” by 0.4 of a percentage point.
The FiveThirtyEight average of all national polls is the most bullish on Gary Johnson, though by only a slight margin, seeing the Libertarian at 8.9 percent as of August 19.
But Johnson is actually performing a bit better in an average of the only five polls that matter when the Commission on Presidential Debates makes it decision on whether to grant him a third podium or not. The Commission will look only at polls taken by the four major TV networks, plus CNN.
In the latest average of those five polls, Gary Johnson sees 10 percent support — better, but still only two-thirds of the way to his goal of 15.
In the following video, Gary Johnson and his running mate, former Republican Massachusetts Governor William Weld, make their case to MSNBC Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough that they will, in fact, qualify for the presidential debates.
To get to that 15 percent cutoff, Johnson will need to leverage every bit of support he has, and data collected by Facebook and the online site Mashable indicates that in the realm of social media, Johnson has a significant amount of backing — far outstripping his rival “third party” candidate, Green Party nominee Jill Stein.
“Between July 10 and Aug. 9, 4.3 million U.S. Facebook users who are 18 or older have garnered 27.6 million interactions — likes, comments, posts and shares — related to Johnson. About 2.8 million people generated 16.1 million interactions related to Stein,” Mashable correspondent Kerry Flynn reported this week.
“That’s a steep climb from the 15,247 and 15,812 people talking about Johnson and Stein, respectively, back on May 2,” Mashable added.
Online conversation regarding Johnson, as well as Stein, hit its highest peak during the Democratic National Convention, with both candidates seeing spikes in their online interactions on July 26 and July 27 — as both Johnson and Stein showed up in person at the convention in an attempt to lure away disaffected Democratic voters disillusioned by the defeat of upstart contender Bernie Sanders.
But how do Facebook “likes” and other interactions translate into votes — or do they?
During the primary campaigns, election forecaster and FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver created a model that Silver dubbed, “The Facebook Primary,” which tracked candidate support on the social networking behemoth.
But Silver cautioned that Facebook interactions, while they could be useful in showing where support for certain candidates was concentrated, was not especially useful in making election predictions, at least in the primary.
“If Facebook likes were votes, Bernie Sanders would be on pace to beat Hillary Clinton nationwide by a nearly 3-to-1 margin,” FiveThirtyEight reported in February. “Donald Trump (would) garner more support than Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined.”
— Bill Scher (@billscher) August 17, 2016
The second prediction turned out to be true. Donald Trump ended the primary campaign with about 45 percent of the Republican vote. Cruz and Rubio combined for 39 percent.
On the Democratic side, however, Facebook was far off the mark. Not only did Bernie Sanders fail to defeat Hillary Clinton by “a nearly 3-to-1 margin,” but he also lost to Clinton, and not by a little but by a lot. Sanders collected only 43 percent of the vote to 55 percent for the eventual Democratic nominee.
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Will Gary Johnson follow the example of Donald Trump, turning his Facebook “likes” into enough votes to at least qualify for the presidential debates — the first one of which will be held on September 26? Or will he go the route of Bernie Sanders, generating impressive degrees of online enthusiasm, but unable to turn his social media presence into votes? The answer should become clear over the following few weeks, after which Johnson will know if he will take part in the debates or not.
[Photo By Rick Bowmer/AP Images]