Can Gary Johnson disrupt the two-party applecart in November? In the latest Fox News poll, the Libertarian Party candidate makes it into double digits thanks to a strong showing among independents, edging out Hillary Clinton but still trailing Donald Trump in that demographic. However, Hillary Clinton has a narrow three-point edge whether up against Trump alone (42/39) or with both Trump and Johnson in the mix (39/36/12).
Let’s take a closer look at Johnson’s numbers to see his impact on the field. He draws more votes from Republicans (11%) than Democrats (7%), and pulls twice as many men (16%) than women (8%). Assuming those numbers hold up, it would appear that Johnson will draw more from Trump’s potential voter base than Hillary’s, although he’s getting more of the independents from Hillary in comparison to the two-way race (30/35 compared to 22/32/23, HC/DT and HC/DT/GJ).
Still, 12% in a national poll doesn’t suggest a massive spoiler role yet, and the big question will be whether he can sustain it past the conventions. Lots of people like to dance with independent candidates, but they usually come home with one of the two major-party candidates.
The poll of registered voters took place earlier this week, with Hillary’s big primary wins and nomination clinching in the middle of the survey period. Even so, Bernie Sanders actually outperforms Hillary against Trump, 49/38, capturing 45% of independents as opposed to 30% for Hillary Clinton. In the Hillary/Trump race, both hold 79% of their own party’s vote, while Sanders would hold 81% of his own party, plus pick up 16% of Republicans in this poll; Trump’s share of the GOP voters slides to 75%.
Those numbers tell us a couple of things. First, this poll doesn’t reflect what a race will look like when the Democrats get more unified behind their nominee. It also shows that Trump may not necessarily gain much when Sanders departs the field. Trump has had four weeks to unify the party’s voters behind him, and seems to have succeeded to a large extent, but Hillary matches him even with Sanders in the race. She will have more upside on that count, and perhaps also with the 15% of independents who backed Bernie but not Hillary. If Bernie endorses Hillary, that may be even more within reach.
This may also be a problem for Trump:
The level of people who seem happy to vote in a Hillary/Trump race seems rather high. Not to get all Pauline Kael-ish, but very few people with whom I’ve been in contact look at this as anything other than a lesser-of-two-evils exercise. The problem for Trump is that his voters are less enthusiastic than Hillary’s by a substantial margin, and that may signal turnout issues for a candidate that has eschewed the ground campaign.