The 2016 election was expected to draw out greater support for third party candidates. However, as election day draws near, the most prominent third party candidate, Libertarian Gary Johnson, finds himself slipping in the polls.
He also made it onto the ballots in all 50 states and his poll numbers held up through the party’s national conventions. With that in mind, he aimed to build support and hoped to make the debate stage.
In some individual states Johnson polled at 15 percent or higher, and in his home state of New Mexico he polled as high as 24 percent recently.
However, in October his national polling numbers dropped to a 5.6 percent average, with some national polls showing him at as low as 3 percent.
So, what happened?
A few things. For one—Johnson had a handful of gaffes on foreign policy.
First, he was ridiculed on MSNBC for his “What is Aleppo?” answer when asked about the Syrian city in September.
The Libertarian candidate compounded the problem by failing to name a foreign leader he admired at an MSNBC town hall and cited his previous blunder saying, “I’m having an Aleppo moment.”
Most recently, Johnson refused to name North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, when prompted by a New York Times interviewer.
The other major aspect contributing to Johnson’s drop in the polls is the idea that his candidacy was simply a “protest” vote against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, both of whom have very low favorability ratings.
Surrogates on both the Republican and Democratic side have called voting for third party candidates as a spoiler for the election—like Independent candidates Ralph Nadar in 2000 and Ross Perot in 1992.
It’s also common for third party candidates to lose support as the election gets closer.
Instead of Johnson—who still has an outside chance of winning his home state of New Mexico—the Independent candidate Evan McMullin is currently the most likely third party candidate to win electoral votes.
In McMullin’s home state of Utah, a recent Emerson poll shows the Independent candidate pulling ahead of Trump 31 percent to 27 percent, and leading Clinton who has 24 percent.