By Jim EllisJune 13, 2019 — The Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS) released an independent poll just a couple days ago from the Practical Political Consultants organization (June 5-9; 335 likely MI-3 Republican primary voters) that finds western Michigan Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township/Grand Rapids) trailing his announced 3rd Congressional District Republican primary opponent, state Rep. James Lower (R-Greenville), by a lopsided 49-33 percent count.
After Rep. Amash became the only Republican to side with the Democrats’ informal impeachment caucus over whether to bring proceedings against President Trump, speculation became more rampant that the five-term Michigan congressman would seek the Libertarian nomination for president. The new poll and his action earlier in the week of resigning from the Freedom Caucus and its leadership fuels more speculation that he will jump into the presidential contest.
Many are arguing that Amash would have an effect upon the national election to the point of potentially costing President Trump victory, or at the very least, the state of Michigan, but such an outcome is far from determined.
The Libertarian presidential nomination has some value in that the party can qualify for the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is the only political entity aside from the Republican and Democratic parties that has such an ability. Jill Stein, the 2016 and 2012 Green Party presidential nominee, appeared on the ballot in 45 and 38 states, respectively.
However, just how much of a factor are the individuals who represent the minor parties on the presidential ballot? Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson was the Libertarian nominee in both 2016 and 2012. He has already said he will not be a candidate in 2020. In 2012, his national vote total was 1.27 million. Four years later, his aggregate vote number soared to just under 4.5 million. But, was that due to Johnson himself, or is the Libertarian ballot position, regardless of the candidate’s name associated with it, simply the best place for disaffected voters to cast a ballot?
In the 2012 presidential campaign between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, 98.2 percent of voters chose one of the major party nominees. In the 2016 race, those voting for a major party candidate, in this case Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, dropped to 94.2 percent.
The aggregate national turnout increased by over 7.6 million voters, or a 5.9 percent boost, which accounts for some of the higher minor party/candidate aggregate vote total, but the majority of this upsurge was clearly due to many more people being unhappy with the major party candidates. Considering that both had upside-down favorability indexes heading into the election, such a result is not surprising.
But, we must also point out that Johnson’s 2016 campaign effort and presence was substantially greater than four years previous. In ’16, the Johnson/Weld Libertarian ticket spent over $11.7 million, up from $2.7 million in the earlier national campaign.
The other point is that 239 individuals received presidential votes in 2016, not counting those who chose “none of the above” or cast “blank” ballots, options available in some states. Johnson received 56.4 percent of the votes cast for neither major party nominee, and Stein took 18.3 percent, meaning that virtually three quarters of minor candidate voters chose one of these two.
Evan McMullin, the third-most prevalent minor party candidate, only appeared on the ballot in 11 states and received 723,081 national votes. But, he was a major factor in Utah where he almost finished second, securing 21.5 percent of the state’s votes as compared to Clinton’s, 27.5 percent. President Trump carried Utah, but with only 45.5 percent of the total vote.
Whether Rep. Amash decides to seek the Libertarian presidential nomination or not might be irrelevant. The party will have a nominee, and that ballot designation will attract a significant number of voters, but it is yet to be determined just how much difference the individual carrying the nomination actually makes. Political environment and what happens between the two major party nominees are likely greater factors.
Jumping into the presidential contest, even in a sure losing effort, might be a better political exit for Amash than potentially being denied re-nomination in his own congressional district, however, and we may very well see him choose such an option.