WASHINGTON — Up against the least-popular presidential candidates ever, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party are getting extra attention. Both have been included in a series of polls and performed relatively well. And while neither may win any electoral votes, Johnson can still spoil the Southwest for GOP hopeful Donald Trump, as Ralph Nader did for Al Gore in Florida in 2000.
Johnson is well known to voters in the Southwest as a former governor of New Mexico, and this election could put multiple states there in play. Johnson’s experience as the CEO of a marijuana company might win support in perpetual swing state Colorado, and forecaster Nate Silver predicts Arizona, where Johnson is averaging 8 percent, is the closest state between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Johnson might also do well in Utah, where Mormons are “particularly rankled” by Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, according to the Los Angeles Times. Johnson received 16 percent support in his best state poll there and won 13 percent in the most recent poll, which tied Clinton and Trump at 35 percent. In 2012, Mormon Mitt Romney took 72 percent of the vote in Utah.
Were Johnson to throw Arizona and Utah to Clinton, their combined 17 electoral votes would be enough to insulate her from losing Michigan’s 16 electoral votes, if Trump’s focus on the blue-leaning state pays off. Winning Arizona and Utah might allow her to lose every other swing state but Florida and still reach 270 electoral votes.
Johnson or Stein could also hurt Clinton in Colorado and New Mexico, though “some Democrats may be sufficiently risk-averse to want to be sure to avoid a repeat of 2000,” said Phil Paolino, a political scientist who has studied past third-party campaigns.
Nader’s more recent candidacy influenced the outcome more than Ross Perot’s, which took votes from both parties and did best in non-swing states. There is at least one scenario where the Green ticket could play a big spoiler role, as well: If Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., accepts Jill Stein’s offer to lead the party’s ticket.
When there are three options, Johnson’s national numbers are several points higher than Ralph Nader’s at this point in 2000. Recent four-option polls have both Johnson and Stein meeting or exceeding Nader.