One thing hasn’t changed much in recent months in presidential polling: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are deeply unpopular.
Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, might interest voters who often say they are conservative on economic issues but liberal on social ones.
In broad strokes, he thinks government should be small, should let free markets do their thing and should keep its nose out of people’s personal lives.
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That means he doesn’t like the minimum wage and wants to fully privatize health care. At the same time, he’s for legalizing marijuana and accepts the science of climate change.
Like Clinton, he supports same-sex marriage and immigration reform. Like Trump he opposes gun restrictions and the Department of Education.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders’ supporters who don’t think Clinton is progressive enough might like Stein, the Green Party candidate.
She supports gun control and a $15 per hour minimum wage, the latter being something Clinton came to only reluctantly in the primaries. Stein goes further left on other issues, favoring a single-payer health care system, slashing defense spending by half and abolishing student debt.
Of the two, Stein is the less likely to win many votes in November.
Pandering to anti-vaccination and anti-GMO groups — though as a physician Stein herself supports vaccination — has contributed to her sitting in low single-digits in polls.
Johnson has fared better, reaching as high as 13 percent support in some polls. As a former two-term governor of New Mexico, he doesn’t lack executive experience. He has landed the endorsements of several newspapers. And days ago his campaign announced Johnson will appear on the ballots of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in November.
He did embarrassingly flub a TV host’s question about the Syrian city of Aleppo, though that seems rather small potatoes given the much more well-known troubles of Clinton and Trump. The fact that Johnson has smoked pot recently might also undermine voters’ confidence.
However, far bigger hurdles exist for Johnson and Stein in their long-shot bids to make it to the White House.
On Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that Johnson and Stein will not participate in the first presidential debate on Sept. 26. Neither candidate reached 15 percent support in a number of polls, which they need to secure a spot in the first presidential debate.
By setting the bar so high, the Commission on Presidential Debates makes it difficult for candidates who aren’t Democrats or Republicans to gain traction. That’s unfortunate to a degree, because if Stein and Johnson appear on stage in a future debate, voters might start to view them as legitimate challengers to Trump and Clinton.
Even if neither Johnson or Stein is likely to win, they still could help determine the outcome on Election Day. Historically, third-party candidates periodically capture enough support to deny the winner a majority of the popular vote, if not a majority in the Electoral College.
In 1992, Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill, won the presidency with only 43 percent of the vote when third-party candidate Ross Perot took almost 20 percent.
Richard Nixon (1968) and Woodrow Wilson (1912) each won with about 42 percent. In 1824, Andrew Jackson received a plurality, 41 percent of the vote, but John Qunicy Adams became president with 31 percent. Abraham Lincoln won only 40 percent of the vote in 1860.
Clinton recently was beating Trump in national polling averages, 45.7 percent to 44.2 percent.
Even if you don’t expect a third-party candidate to win — and you shouldn’t — sending a message to the major parties that their nominees are unacceptable is a legitimate reason to vote for Johnson, Stein or anyone else. That’s especially true in states like Missouri and Kansas. Their electoral votes almost certainly will go to Trump.
Weeks remain until Election Day. That’s plenty of time for voters to take a look at all the options available to them, including candidates such as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.