The bottom is falling out of Gary Johnson’s poll numbers.
The two-time Libertarian presidential candidate has shed roughly half his supporters over the past two months. His slide from nearly 10 percent in September to a recent polling average of 5.6 percent — combined with Hillary Clinton’s growing advantage over Donald Trump — means Johnson is increasingly unlikely to be a major factor unless the race tightens in the final two weeks.
The former New Mexico governor, along with other third-party candidates, could still tip the scales in states where minor-party candidates have traditionally run strongest. But despite Johnson’s large national profile, the third-party candidate who now has the best chance of swinging a state result is Evan McMullin — the former House GOP staffer running as an independent who is climbing in the polls in Utah, typically a safe Republican state.
But McMullin is on the ballot in only about a dozen states, while Johnson is on the ballot in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Green Party nominee Jill Stein is on 45 ballots, including D.C.
In recent presidential elections, third-party candidates have been kept in the low single-digits on Election Day. At the national level, 1.7 percent of voters in 2012 chose a candidate from outside the two major-party nominees, up from 1.4 percent in 2008 and 1 percent in 2004. In 2000, when Ralph Nader won 2.7 percent of the vote as the Green Party nominee, 3.7 percent of voters picked from outside the Democratic and Republican candidates.
Despite the fact his poll numbers are twice Nader’s 2000 vote share, Johnson is not assured of earning a larger percentage than the longtime consumer-rights advocate, who appeared to siphon votes away from Al Gore to tilt Florida and New Hampshire to George W. Bush. (The 2000 election was much tighter nationally than this year’s race projects to be: Gore finished about a half-point above Bush in the popular vote.)
Why might Johnson continue to fade? First, his trajectory has been steadily downward over the past two months, especially he failed to qualify for the presidential debates.
At the start of September, Johnson was at 9.2 percent in the national polls. By mid-September, when the nonpartisan commission that administers the debates ruled Johnson failed to reach the 15 percent threshold, he was at 8.4 percent. And when it came time to apply the cut for the final debate two weeks ago, Johnson was at 7 percent.
Since then, he has continued to plummet. Johnson is at 5 percent in the most recent ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll, conducted last Thursday through Sunday. And in a CNN/ORC International poll conducted over the same time period, he fell to just 3 percent, down from 7 percent three weeks prior.