The Gary Johnson Effect: Could the Libertarian Hurt Trump?

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

The Daily Caller reported this week that a source within Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s campaign suggested the former New Mexico governor could be in line for a fundraising boon should he sew up the Libertarian Party nomination as expected:

Billionaire businessman and philanthropist David Koch has pledged “tens of millions of dollars” to help bankroll the campaign of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, according to a source within Johnson’s campaign.

[…]

A Koch spokesman initially declined to comment on the record.

But after publication, the spokesman told TheDC: “Reports that David Koch has pledged his support to Gary Johnson – or any candidate running for president for that matter – are untrue.”

Despite that denial, a source with a leadership position in the Libertarian Party told The Daily Caller Thursday afternoon that Johnson’s on track to receive the billionaire’s support.

“In the event that a Johnson/[Bill] Weld ticket emerges from the convention, a pathway is in place for significant funding from Koch, [Steve] Wynn and other large donors,” the source said.

If the story is true, the Johnson campaign could be poised to have a significant impact on the 2016 presidential election — certainly a far bigger impact than Libertarians have had in recent years — especially given the relative unpopularity of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the likely Republican and Democratic nominees, respectively.

In fact, although very few polls have including Johnson in their polling this early on, the polls that have show him registering a much larger share of the vote than the .99 percent he won in 2012. A Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released last week had Johnson at 4 percent in a match-up with Trump and Clinton, while this week’s Fox News poll shows him at a whopping 10 percent. Either number would represent a record performance for a Libertarian should it hold up in November.

The conventional wisdom would suggest that this is bad news for Trump, given that ideological libertarians are generally thought to be more a part of the Republican coalition than the Democratic. However, the polling available so far would not appear to bear this out. The aforementioned PPP survey showed Trump down 6 points to Clinton in a head-to-head match-up. But when Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are added to the equation, Clinton’s lead drops to 4 points. And in the Fox News poll, Trumps lead over Clinton holds steady at 3 points, both with and without Johnson.

The crosstabs for both polls show that Johnson wins both Democratic and Republican voters, and liberals as well as conservatives. Given that many Democrats and liberals are not thrilled with Clinton as a nominee, this should not come as a surprise. Plus, Johnson’s position on social issues such as religious liberty would seem to appeal much more to liberals than it would to conservatives.

So a strong November showing from Gary Johnson may not hurt Donald Trump’s chances at all. In fact, there’s a chance it may end up helping him.

Paul Dupont is the managing editor for ThePulse2016.com.