Election 2016

Third-Party Candidates Johnson, Stein Largely Unknown

Third-Party Candidates Johnson, Stein Largely Unknown
by Jeffrey M. Jones

Story Highlights

  • 63% unfamiliar with Gary Johnson, 68% with Jill Stein
  • Opinions of Johnson divided; views of Stein tilt negative
  • Better known than most prior Green and Libertarian candidates

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults are unfamiliar with third-party presidential candidates Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party. Those with an opinion are about evenly split in holding a positive or a negative view of Johnson, while they are slightly negative about Stein.

Opinions of Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein
Favorable Unfavorable No opinion
% % %
Gary Johnson 19 18 63
Jill Stein 13 18 68
Gallup, July 13-17, 2016

The results are based on a July 13-17 Gallup poll, conducted before the Republican and Democratic national conventions. It is unclear what impact, if any, those conventions have had on views of the Libertarian and Green Party candidates, who receive far less media attention than Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

But given the unpopularity of Trump and Clinton, it is possible Americans will be searching for an alternative candidate to vote for this fall. Typically, the Libertarian and Green Party candidates receive 1% or less of the vote. Current presidential preference polls that include the third-party candidates show Johnson averaging about 7% of the vote and Stein 3%, a stronger showing than each had in summer preference polls as their party's presidential candidate in 2012. However, support for third-party candidates in early campaign preference polls often greatly overstates the support they receive on Election Day.

Johnson, Stein Better Known Than Many Past Nominees

Gallup has asked Americans for their views of some third-party candidates in past elections, including Libertarian and Green Party candidates, but not Johnson and Stein in 2012. In general, Johnson and Stein this year are better known than many former minor-party candidates, perhaps because it is the second presidential campaign for each.

However, they are not nearly as well-known as other third-party candidates who had already had a national profile before running for president on a third-party ticket, including Ross Perot, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan.

Favorable Ratings of Prior Third-Party Candidates Measured in Gallup Polls
Date Have an opinion Favorable Unfavorable
% % %
Ross Perot (R) 1996 ^ 87 35 52
Ross Perot (I) 1992 ^ 83 42 41
Ralph Nader (I) 2004 Sep 81 33 48
Pat Buchanan (R) 2000 Jul 77 28 49
Ralph Nader (I) 2008 Aug 73 29 44
Ralph Nader (G) 2000 Jul 64 42 22
Gary Johnson (L) 2016 Jul 37 19 18
Jill Stein (G) 2016 Jul 31 13 18
Bob Barr (L) 2008 Aug 27 10 17
David Cobb (G) 2004 Sep 27 6 21
Michael Badnarik (L) 2004 Sep 23 7 16
Michael Peroutka (C) 2004 Sep 18 5 13
Harry Browne (L) 2000 Jun 8 3 5
^ Perot's favorable rating was measured numerous times in 1992 and 1996; figures are average for the year; (R) = Reform Party, (I) = Independent, (G) = Green Party, (L) = Libertarian Party, (C) = Constitution Party
Gallup

For the most part, third-party candidates have not been especially popular, even among Americans who are familiar with them. Only Ralph Nader in 2000 had significantly higher favorable (42%) than unfavorable (22%) ratings, in a year when he won nearly 3% of the national popular vote. Nader was better known in his 2004 and 2008 campaigns for president, but much less liked, perhaps because of the belief he cost Al Gore the 2000 election. Perot, too, was better known but less liked in his second campaign for president in 1996 and received 8% of the vote, compared with 19% in 1992.

Johnson Less Appealing to the Political Right

Johnson is a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico. As such, some experts view him as a greater electoral threat to Trump than to Clinton. And while that may still be the case in terms of how people cast their ballots, more conservatives and Republicans currently view Johnson negatively than positively. In contrast, moderates, liberals, independents and Democrats view him somewhat more positively than negatively. He is about equally unknown among all political groups.

Opinions of Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson, by Ideology and Party Identification
Favorable Unfavorable No opinion
% % %
Liberal 22 15 63
Moderate 24 16 59
Conservative 14 20 66
Democratic 20 17 64
Independent 24 15 62
Republican 13 22 64
Gallup, July 13-17, 2016

The potential threat Johnson poses to Trump may be a reason for the negative tilt among Republicans and conservatives who know him. In other words, they may view Johnson as more of a spoiler candidate than as one who shares their political views on many issues, most notably a preference for limited government.

Political liberals have the most positive views of Stein, suggesting they view her as more of an ideological ally than as a potential spoiler. This may be partly because she is getting lower support in national preference polls than Johnson is. Also, the 45% of liberals who have an opinion of Stein is far greater than the roughly one-third or less of other political and ideological groups that do.

None of the other political and ideological groups view Stein positively. This includes Democrats -- who might be more inclined to like her for her ideological views -- and independents, who may be more positive toward a third-party candidate.

Opinions of Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein, by Ideology and Party Identification
Favorable Unfavorable No opinion
% % %
Liberal 29 16 56
Moderate 10 19 72
Conservative 8 20 72
Democratic 16 16 68
Independent 16 18 66
Republican 7 22 71
Gallup, July 13-17, 2016

Implications

Johnson and Stein are similar to many prior third-party candidates in that they are unknown to most Americans. They are, however, better known than many past third-party candidates, including some who ran on the Libertarian and Green Party tickets. But they are not nearly as well-known as Perot and Nader, the third-party candidates who won the greatest share of the vote in recent elections.

As long as they remain lesser-known, the record indicates Johnson and Stein will not be significant factors in the 2016 election. At most, they have the potential to peel enough support from one of the major-party candidates to swing a close election or possibly alter the outcome in a few states.

And while both Johnson and Stein are registering perceptible support in national presidential preference polls today, the strong historical pattern has been for third-party candidate support levels to shrink as the election draws near. However, the 2016 campaign has already deviated from the historical playbook with a political outsider claiming the Republican nomination and both parties nominating candidates whom the American public views more negatively than positively, even after their nominating conventions. Thus, if more voters dissatisfied with Trump and Clinton choose to register their displeasure by voting for a third-party candidate rather than voting for the "lesser of two evils," this year's third-party candidates could surpass their parties' vote totals in prior elections.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 13-17, 2016, with a random sample of 1,023 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.


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