Yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll had an interesting tidbit within its more remarkable outcomes, one which seems as contradictory as its contrast with Donald Trump’s apparent resurgence in Florida. As in most other polls, the difference between a two-way race between Trump and Hillary Clinton and the four-way race that includes Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein remains a matter of amplitude rather than outcome. However, Johnson gets a lot more support for a place on the debate stage than he does for a place in the Oval Office, an outcome that Quinnipiac doesn’t bother to mention in its polling memo.
Among all likely voters, 62% want Johnson included in the general-election fall debates, with only 29% opposed. Not surprisingly, independents have the most enthusiasm for this idea at 69/22, but majorities of Republicans (56/37) and Democrats (60/29) do as well. Johnson’s inclusion gets its highest level of support from voters under 35 yeas of age (82/13), but leads in every demo except one — seniors, who split 43/44 on the question.
At the moment, Johnson won’t get an invitation because he doesn’t meet the polling requirements of getting 15% in five media polling series. The enthusiasm for including Johnson in the debates contrasts oddly with his lack of traction in the race, though. Why do so many want Johnson included if they don’t want to vote for him?
Perhaps the impulse comes from the American sense of fair play. Johnson will get on at least 44 state ballots in November plus the District of Columbia, for 88% access. That level of access makes Johnson an available choice for well over 90% of American voters. Neither the Green Party (74%) nor the Constitution Party (40%) hit that level of ballot access. A prerequisite of ballot access in 85% of all states and DC makes a lot more sense and seems much more objective than relying on polling numbers from arbitrarily chosen media polls.
One has to suspect that the Commission on Presidential Debates has a strong bias toward maintaining the two-party system. Given the polling trends from Quinnipiac and others, adding Johnson and even Green Party nominee Jill Stein wouldn’t do much damage to that dominance anyway, even in this cycle. Why not include Johnson, at least, and at least acknowledge that other choices exist?
Addendum: I’d be happier making this argument, of course, if Johnson was an actual libertarian. Robert Tranciski hits the nail on the head when he accuses Johnson of pandering to the Left and embracing big-government solutions — the latest of which is a carbon tax to fight global warming. Johnson’s campaign has less to do with libertarianism than it does in styling itself as a No Labels candidacy. However, Johnson’s bad ideas don’t disqualify Libertarians from having access to the debate stage any more than Hillary Clinton’s corruption or Donald Trump’s earlier ineptness disqualify Democrats and Republicans.