The Minor Influence

By Jim Ellis

July 7, 2016 — National polling shows a clear change in the presidential race when minor party candidates are included, but will they actually be on the ballot?

A new Suffolk University/USA Today poll (June 26-29; 1,000 US registered voters) finds Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump 46-40 percent, but the contest changes to a 39-35-8-3 percent split when the two outlying candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, are added to the ballot test questionnaire. Together, they change the contest, routinely driving both major party candidates below 40 percent.

Former New Mexico governor Johnson looks to be assured of 50-state ballot presence. In 2012, he was also the Libertarian nominee and appeared before 49 state electorates and voters in the District of Columbia. He failed to secure ballot access in only one state, Oklahoma. This year, he expects to qualify on all ballots.

The Green Party’s access is another story, however. According to the official party leadership, they have secured a ballot position for nominee Jill Stein in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and are continuing to work through the processes in 27 more domains. The Greens will require court or legislative intervention in three states: the aforementioned Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Indiana. In this latter trio, it is almost a certainty that Stein’s name will not appear on those particular ballots.

Stein, however, has secured access in the top two battleground states, Florida and Ohio, as well as important Colorado. She will also be present in several states that could become competitive: Arizona, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin.

The third-party presence will likely be important for a couple of reasons. First, we see that more than 10 percent of the polling samples in virtually every national survey are already choosing one of the minor party candidates, and that number could increase if dissatisfaction with Clinton and Trump grows. As we saw with a strong third party candidate in 1992 (Ross Perot), his 19 percent national popular vote figure wasn’t enough to capture any Electoral Votes but clearly did divert support away from George H.W. Bush. This certainly helped Bill Clinton win the national election even though only 43 percent of the voters chose him.

This time, the minor candidates seem to be drawing from both candidates, so if the election becomes as close as many believe it may, those votes going to either Johnson or Stein could potentially become a deciding factor.

Though the minor party candidates are approaching the 15% polling number necessary to qualify for the national debate stage in the aggregate, it doesn’t appear that either individual could individually achieve such a total in time for the first national candidate forum on Sept. 27.

The debates will be a major factor in this presidential election campaign, because the forum viewership will assuredly register an all-time high rating. Therefore, we can expect controversy to brew over an arbitrary percentage from what are proving to be increasingly unreliable polls as the determining factor for minor party candidate participation. Additionally, since the presidential election is decided on a state-by-state basis and not in the national popular vote count, the reliance on a national popularity poll to decide who are the final debate participants is even more questionable.

With the FBI decision not to recommend an indictment against Clinton and her staff members, we could well see a bleeding of support from her, at least in the short-term. This, too, could help both Johnson and Stein increase their national survey standing.

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