He’s No Nader: Gary Johnson on 2016

Posted on September 15, 2016 by


The 2016 Presidential Election has been one of the more interesting races in modern history. From candidate health conspiracy theories to televised remarks regarding the size of a specific body part no one would care to imagine, it’s safe to say that the American electorate has been taken on a flying coaster set ablaze. And, unsurprisingly, many voters want off.

imagesEnter Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, and the 2016 Libertarian nominee for president. Casting himself as the alternative candidate to two of the most widely disliked presidential nominees ever, Johnson has garnered a significant following, especially considering the dismal performance of most third-party candidates. The recent uptick in Johnson’s support has many wondering if his candidacy will decide the election, producing an effect similar to that of Ralph Nader in the infamous Bush v. Gore election of 2000. I, for one, am not convinced that he will.


It’s Just a Phase

While Johnson’s rise has been notable, it’s likely that the coalition of voters supporting him will begin to wither away. Historically, the popularity of third-party candidates fades closer and closer to election day, as supporters come to terms with the reality of their votes being ineffectual. What’s more, this trend may be even stronger for close elections, where folks feel less inclined to throw away their votes. As Andrew Gelman, a professor of political science at Columbia University points out, the tightness of the race may have played a factor in the Ross Perot phenomena, one of the most successful third-party candidate runs in history, “Perot in 1992 received 19 percent of the vote but won zero states. That election was not close, which perhaps made people feel more free to vote for a third party. I’d guess that the opportunity for third-party success in 2016 is again if the election does not seem like it will be close.”


But this race is close, and it arguably feels more consequential to many Americans than 1992 did, with the future of the Supreme Court hanging in the balance, national security concerns, and increasing economic anxiety. With the stakes so high, it’s hard to imagine swaths of voters backing a candidate they know has zero chance of winning–they might as well opt-out of the process altogether. And that could happen, too. Given the current polarization within the country, and the messy, bar-brawl nature of the race thus far, it’s possible that those who are reluctant to back either of the major candidates feel so alienated from the race itself, that they decide not to cast a ballot at all. Johnson may have been able to capitalize on mainstream party disenchantment initially, but it’s only a matter of time before his supporters become disenchanted with him, too.  


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