Reality Check: The Gary Johnson Factor

Libertarian Candidate’s Mighty Wrench

Full disclosure: I voted for Gary Johnson, 2016 libertarian presidential candidate, in 2012, and I will likely do it again. This is not stirring news for those familiar with this space, as stated before, since 1980, my first year of voting at 18, I have only cast a ballot for a major party candidate twice; 2000, for George W. Bush, as an anti-Gore vote, and 2008 for President Obama, because of generational affinity. But this is not a column about why anyone else should vote for Johnson or to endorse him. This is to point out that he is affecting the landscape of this election unlike anyone since Ross Perot in 1992 and again in 1996.

This has less to do with Gary Johnson than his two national party candidates.

Famously, or infamously, if you happen to be a fan of George H. W. Bush or Bob Dole, Perot unquestionably skewed the numbers that eventually elected William Jefferson Clinton twice with less than 50 percent of the national vote. The independent candidate in ’92 received nearly 19 percent of the popular vote, an unprecedented number, which was a reflection of his polling 39 percent that summer before he ceremoniously quit the race under some cloud of paranoia and fear of the Clinton Machine. In 1996, as a Green Party candidate, he garnered a still impressive 8.4 percent of the vote. In neither election did Perot, a fiscally conservative, anti-government businessman, (sound familiar?) nab a single electoral vote, but he certainly pulled enough from the Republican candidate to usher in two Clinton administrations.

Gary Johnson is not playing on that kind of lofty pedestal… yet. Right now, depending on the poll, the libertarian is hovering around eight to nine percent of the popular vote. In some states, however, much more important than this popular vote nonsense (ask Al Gore about that), he is gobbling up 12 to 15 to even 18 percent. Most of that, it appears, is Bernie Sanders cast-offs and some conservatives either in the brushed-aside Ted Cruz camp or those distrustful of a Republican candidate who a mere two years ago was giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to his opponent and the foundation he now gratuitously attacks as corrupt.

What is not up for debate is Johnson’s affect on a pretty sizable percentage of normally Democratic voters; young people to be exact. While Clinton has cornered the market on minorities and women, she is woefully behind in a key demographic of the famed Obama Coalition that helped elect him twice in overwhelming electoral victories. This youth voting bloc potentially makes up 31 percent of the electorate, but historically, including in 2012, only 46 percent manage to actually vote. Millennials are the worst culprits of this. They have voted less than any previous generation; however, a huge portion of them voted for Bernie Sanders and are showing no signs of voting for either major party candidate.

Although a July poll (before either candidate’s conventions goofed up the polling) showed Madam Shoo-In ahead among under-30 voters by 35 points, she is now around 20 percent. But the same polling indicated that Gary Johnson was pulling in a third of the youth vote, mostly under 20—the “legalize pot, stay out of stupid wars I might have to fight in, and what’s with all the gay bashing and anti-pro choice shit?” vote). This is slightly less now, but still impressive. It should be pointed out—and to be fair there was no viable third-party candidate either time—Obama dominated the youth vote by twice as much as his Democratic successor.

Any way you slice it, Gary Johnson is a factor in 2016, which is why he should be allowed to debate on September 26, something, not ironically or coincidentally Bernie Sanders has fully endorsed.

This is important because this is the only voting bloc Clinton has left to exploit. The Never Trump Republicans, many of whom, as mentioned above, are either trying to run a Mormon third-party guy, escaping to Johnson, or writing in Wendell Willkie, has peaked. The fact that Trump is only holding three-quarters of his own party, where the last GOP nominee (who you might have heard, did not win) had 96 percent is as alarming as it will get.

Polls that have tightened in late August/early September have mostly done so in a wave of anti-Clinton sentiment, as discussed last week, due to new evidence of shenanigans over at the Clinton Foundation, the State Department, Big Bill’s secret hideaway bungalow, and other unexplained phenomenon, while Trump’s immovable ceiling has remained between 42 and 44 percent at its peak and in the high 30s when he has Twitter wars with celebrities and says U.S. generals suck and for some interesting reason begins hinting at things he “feels” during highly classified pre-election briefings.

Speaking of faux pas, and a rather enormous one, this week Gary Johnson did not know what the hell, never mind where, Aleppo, Syria was. This is in the wake, mind you, of the usual media deluge of coverage of a refugee crisis that has been plastered all over the news and the Internet for months, and more recently this week. For informed voters and news-nuts and the media brethren, this glaring fuck-up far outweighs an obviously overwhelmed simpleton vice president in 2008, who knew less about anything than probably anyone running for elected office, trying to name something she reads. And that is saying quite a bit.

But you know what? This is not going to matter to most of Johnson’s libertarian voters, namely me, who wish they didn’t know what Aleppo or any festering boil in the Middle East was. In fact, this is the final charm of Gary Johnson, who, now that Trump has announced he wants to annex Iraq in perpetuity to pillage oil from a sovereign nation that we’ve pummeled into ally status, is not interested in the least in what is going on anywhere but here.

Although, Jill Stein is looking awfully good right now.

Wait, goddamn it! Did she just get arrested?

Screw it.

Kanye West 2020!



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James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the
author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, “Midnight For Cinderella” and “Y”. and his new book, “Shout It Out Loud—The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon”.