Keep Your Eyes on the Third Parties

I’ve seen some speculation recently that the Libertarian Party may do historically well in the presidential election this year, but Steve M. is the first analyst I’ve seen tackle the prospect of Green Party candidate Jill Stein getting significant backing from the Bernie or Bust crowd.

The first caveat here is that this about the worst time to ask anyone how they’ll behave in the voting booth in November. Feelings are about as raw as they’re going to get on both sides of the political divide. If you count yourself as someone who is disappointed or even hurt that Hillary Clinton (if you’re on the left) or Donald Trump (if you are on the right) is going to be your party’s nominee, then you are definitely in a small minority. The vast majority of people haven’t been paying close enough attention to be hurt or disappointed. Many more don’t even have a party and they’ll be choosing between two people that are presented to them rather than thinking about what might have been if different people had won the nominations.

Anger will subside and bitterness will dissolve. In the end, there will be a clear choice, and most people will have little difficulty making it.

Yet, the schisms in the two major parties are historically large this year, both nominees have big negatives, and there is no Ross Perot in sight. It would not surprise me to see both the Libertarian and the Green parties get larger than usual numbers of protest votes.

Of the two, Clinton will have the easier time avoiding this, but she has to take actions to unite the left. Trump’s problem is deeper because the people in his own party who are opposing him are opposing him more for his bad temperament and poor preparation than for any specific policies. Many just don’t think he can do the job or that he should be trusted with it. Very few people on the left share those misgivings about Clinton, and certainly not to the same degree.

It will be interesting to see if the Libertarians or the Greens can get traction. New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is expected to be the Libertarian nominee, and he’s polling at about 10% in some recent surveys. He’d need to average 15% to get into the debates. Jill Stein has a steeper hill to climb.

I suppose that if the election looks like a blowout, more people will feel it’s safe to cast a protest vote. If the race looks competitive, fewer people will make that choice. If Trump hemorrhages any significant amount of votes to Johnson, it could cost him some states that you might not expect to be competitive, like Georgia and Montana. On the other hand, Gary Johnson might actually appeal to some young voters who are still pissed off about Bernie Sanders not getting the nomination. A lot will depend on whether Johnson can get into the debates. If he does, he could pull from both sides.

In any case, the third parties are a factor we need to keep our eyes on, because there is a lot of political disenchantment in the land, and it needs a place to go.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.