The usual wisdom is that, as election day grows closer, support for third-party candidates tends to shrivel as the voting public heeds the tribal war drums and comes home to Team Red or Team Blue in a ritualistic display of political masochism that could be topped only by the sight of actual hair-shirted flagellants lined up to enter the polling booths. That third-party shrinkage may not be happening this year, though — or not yet, at least. A new poll from Ohio shows Gary Johnson gaining support, even as press reports emphasize the hold-your-nose-quality in which both major-party candidates marinate, and which may have voters looking elsewhere for options.
- Obama/Biden: 45.2%
- Other/Unsure: 10.4%
- Romney/Ryan: 44.3%
Then, Gary Johnson was added.
- Johnson: 10.6%
- Obama/Biden: 44.5%
- Other/Unsure: 7.1%
- Romney/Ryan: 37.8%
Not so tight, anymore. And Johnson's numbers are up from September 7-8, when he pulled 4.5% in Ohio.
If this is a break from the usual all-power-to-the-institutional-parties phenomenon, why would that happen? Well, note that, in Ohio, both Romney and Obama have higher unfavorables than favorables. When asked about Obama's job performance, 46.4 percent disapprove, and 45.3 percent approve (8.3 percent are unsure). When asked their opinions of Romney, 44.4% are unfavorable and 41.1 percent are favorable (14.6 percent are, somehow, still unsure).
The recent nation-wide Reason-Rupe Poll (PDF) also found both Obama and Romney upside down in terms of public opinion, with 50 percent disapproving of the president's performance on the economy* compared to 47 percent approval, and 49 percent holding an unfavorable opinion of Romney compared to 41 percent favoring him. That poll found national support for Johnson at six percent.
This wide-ranging dislike for what the major political parties have coughed up as their team leaders this year squares very strongly with a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article pointing out:
Never have American voters re-elected a president whose work they disapprove of as much as Barack Obama's. Not that Mitt Romney can take much comfort — they've never elected a challenger they view so negatively, either.
Unless things change dramatically, this Election Day will mark a first, no matter who wins. The victor will be a sitting president with a slow economy, 8 percent-plus unemployment and an average Gallup job-approval rating below 50 percent. Or he'll be a challenger who isn't liked personally by a majority of the public and faces notable discord within his own party.
Of course, third-party support could still shrivel by election day. But it's interesting to see Johnson's support apparently growing this close to America's regularly scheduled festival of political disappointment.
*Note: I originally pulled numbers from the wrong line of the poll. Obama has overall favorables in the Reason-Rupe poll, but an unfavorable rating on his handling of the economy, which has shaped up as moderately important this year.