The Ohio State University at Newark

Professor Weighs in on Third Party Candidates

The Ohio State University at Newark Associate Professor of Political Science Nathaniel Swigger, Ph.D., said a third party candidate is not going to win the election despite voters’ reluctance to embrace Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. However, the attention placed on a third party this year could make a difference in future elections. He appeared on Fox 28's Good Day Columbus on July 14 to discuss third party candidates.

“The 2016 presidential election features two unpopular major party candidates which has led to speculation that this could be a strong year for a third party candidate, most notably Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson,” said Swigger. “It is clear that many voters are dissatisfied with their choices and also angry at the political establishment. If Johnson can build on that support and reach
15% he would be allowed to participate in the presidential debates in the fall, bringing more exposure to the Libertarian Party than it has ever had.”

Election polls generally do not include third party or independent candidates, so the effect a strong Libertarian candidacy would have on the election is unclear at this time. Based on surveys that do exist, Johnson pulls support from both major parties – slightly more from Clinton. Though Clinton’s lead is reduced she does remain the front runner in a three-way race.

“There are reasons to be skeptical about Johnson’s standing in the race. Support for third party candidates tends to decline as the election gets closer. Rather than voting for a candidate who cannot win, voters choose the lesser of two evils.”

Swigger also notes that Johnson’s relative anonymity may also be artificially boosting his standing.

“Both Trump and Clinton have near-universal name recognition, while Johnson and his policies are largely unknown. At the moment, he can be a perfect cipher for anyone who wishes to cast a ‘Never Trump’ or ‘Never Hillary’ vote. However, if Johnson’s standing rises, voters may also take a look at his actual policy positions, which could send traditional liberals and conservatives running back into the arms of their parties’ nominees."

“Ultimately, successful third-party presidential runs don’t result in election victories. However, they do produce changes in the party system,” said Swigger. “If Johnson builds up significant support then one (or both) of the two parties may sense an opportunity and change their policies in order to try and win over those voters. Even if Johnson’s standing is largely driven by the unpopularity
of the 2016 candidates, the parties may still see his success as a product of policy rather than personality.”

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