This week, Quinnipiac released some general election polling from my home state of Connecticut. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton maintains a surprisingly small but clear lead over presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, 45-38. Remarkably, that only accounts for 83 percent of the electorate, a pretty low number if you consider how high the name recognition is for each candidate. Are 17 percent of Connecticut citizens really torn on which one to support?
I say no. I say most of that 17 percent doesn’t want to support either one. The proof is in the favorability split. Both candidates performed miserably in this statistic, as they have across most general election surveys. Clinton earned a 37/55 favorable to unfavorable split (-18), a pathetic result considering Connecticut is a Democratic stronghold, while Trump managed to do even worse — 33/61 (-28).
We see similar hesitancy in national polls. Here are the last nine from Real Clear Politics:
In only one of those polls do the two major candidates reach a combined 90 percent. Most total in the mid-to-high 80s, and Rasmussen is finding them down in the70s. By comparison, here is a stretch of polls from similar dates four years ago:
President Obama and Governor Romney almost always eclipsed 90 percent and even went considerably higher. I went back four more years to Senators Obama and McCain and found them regularly combining for over 90 percent in the same stretch as well.
We don’t need to stop at the national polls, either.
- Gravis released a Utah poll on Monday which had Trump 36, Clinton 29, leaving nearly a plurality of those polled, 35 percent, supporting neither.
- The day before, CBS/YouGov polls in California and New Jersey showed Clinton with 15-point leads, and yet in neither did she reach 50 percent.
- Recent polls in Virginia, New Hampshire, and Michigan showed them combine for less than 90 percent.
- Even their home state of New York showed them totaling only 83 in the most recent survey of the state.
Between these low numbers and record unfavorables, it seems Americans have never been this dissatisfied with their two nominees.
But here’s the thing: there are more than two nominees.
While we were understandably paying close attention to the fascinating Republican and Democratic primaries, the country’s third and fourth largest parties nominated their own candidates.
Explaining the allure of Gary Johnson and the Libertarians (band name, called it) is easy. Recall that in my “Sanders’s Swan Song” post, I pointed out that the tradition left-right political spectrum, pictured below, is insufficient.
Among the many improvements people have attempted is the below plane. “More freedom” translates to “less government control,” and “less freedom” translates to “more government control.” I’ve placed the major political parties in their appropriate quadrant.
While still an oversimplification, this layout at least does a better job than the straight line when ideologically placing the two major political parties. Typical Republicans champion the freedom to do what you want with your money, but they want to restrict what you can smoke, who you can marry, and what bathroom you can use, among other hot-button constraints. Typical Democrats, meanwhile, want to allow more freedom of choice in each of those areas, but they don’t quite trust you with all your money, especially if you’ve done well for yourself financially.
Both parties, libertarians will tell you, are philosophically inconsistent. They notice the chart’s top-right quadrant is conspicuously vacant. Johnson and Libertarians represent the party of the most freedom in the most cases, meaning a lot of personal liberty and minimal taxation:
If that sounds nice, consider voting for Gary Johnson.
A fourth option for you is the the Green Party nominee, Dr. Jill Stein. (No, she will not fill the empty, bottom-left, “less freedom” quadrant. It’s hard to imagine a time where a national party gains traction under the “We will take all your money and make all your decisions” banner.) At her declaration speech, she promoted “lifting the voices of black, brown and poor people in the fight for economic justice,” “defending the rights of students, immigrants, and the disabled,” and “mobilizing the homeless to become a new political force.” She goes on to list endemic problems of American society, all of which have been “made even worse by the climate crisis.” Stein and the Greens want government to actively effect change, channeling the people’s resources to do it, and fast.
The Democrats, they say, move much too slowly. We have pressing issues which need immediate action, and the Democrats are too moderate to tackle them effectively. With that kind of worldview, one can understand why Stein is reaching out to disaffected Sanders voters, calling herself “Plan B.” Their like-minded liberal minions also came up with this clever little Star Wars meme.
If you think Sanders’s force is with Jill Stein, consider voting for her.
Interestingly, when the pollsters offer Johnson and/or Stein to respondents, Trump and Clinton’s combined number falls even more.
For example, the Connecticut poll I mentioned at the top of this post — 45-38 in favor of Clinton — also asked its respondents about a four-way race. Their numbers fell to 41-36, only 77 percent combined. Johnson and Stein earned 6 and 3, respectively.
The most recent national poll from IBD/TIPP had a two-way race at Clinton 45, Trump 40. When Johnson was then given as an option, Clinton fell 6 points and Trump fell 5, giving us a pathetic looking 39-35 race, and Johnson absorbed all 11 conceded points — double digits!
Most stunning is that Utah poll from Gravis. Just as Clinton’s lead in reliably blue Connecticut is just 7, so is Trump’s in reliably red Utah (36-29). But that’s in a two-way race. If voters were also offered Johnson, the numbers flatten to Trump 29, Clinton 26, and Johnson 16. I don’t know what’s more surprising — a third party candidate at more than half the support of each of the two major nominees, or a Republican in Utah at under 30 percent support. Remarkable.
It’s clear that prompting respondents with more options is enough for some people to remember we’re not limited to two choices, as if respondents forgot they aren’t forced to vote for one of the two major parties.
We all know the counterargument to the third party vote, though. Why throw away a vote for a third party candidate when instead your vote could more meaningfully assist the “lesser of two evils”?
Most people seem to come down pretty passionately on one side or the other here:
- Pro-“lesser of two evils” arguments (The Pragmatists) point to huge differences between the Democratic and Republican parties on many important issues, the most prominent of which is Supreme Court appointments, and they think principle should give way to pragmatism. They want voters to point the country in the best possible direction, and that means voting for the best option of the viable ones. These people usually point to the Green Party’s Ralph Nader winning more Florida votes than than the difference between Governor Bush and Vice-President Gore in the state during the 2000 election debacle. They argue that every Nader voter was complicit in giving the White House to President Bush, which liberals argue was a terrible presidency.
- Anti-“lesser of two evils” arguments (The Idealists) usually boil down to, “But it’s still evil.” These idealists will point to similarities between the Democratic and Republican candidates on issues important to the idealist, and they think principle should give way to nothing at all. They feel Americans should naturally vote for the candidate that most embodies the voter’s ideals, even if the candidate can’t win. They think Gore lost to Bush not because of Nader, but because of Gore himself. There’s also a streak of pragmatism here; they argue that if we continue to vote for the lesser of two evils, then we’ll continue to be offered varying degrees of evil as a choice every four years. Myopia, therefore, perpetuates the cycle. In the words of Daenerys Targaryen, they think it’s time to break the wheel.
Where PPFA comes down on this issue will be the subject of a later post. Don’t be a stranger.