Pollster and political consultant Douglas Schoen has released a new poll showing that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are effectively tied among likely voters, with each pulling in the low-40s. (This finding is replicated in other polls, some of which show Trump slightly ahead of Clinton but msot within the margin of error).
The most interesting finding in the Schoen results involves responses to questions about independent or alternative candidates. The short version tells us what we've known for a long time: Increasing numbers of people are effectively done with the two major parties, at least when it comes to their presumptive nominees for president. As Matt Welch and I wrote in The Declaration of Indepedents (2011/2012), politics is a lagging indicator of where America is already headed and the same forces that have remade our cultural, commercial, and personal lives are coming to politics. Every aspect of our lives besides politis is shot through with increasing choices and proliferating, personalized options. Due to our electoral system, the United States will always have two dominant parties, but what they stand—and how broadly they appeal to people—can vary widely. But until the Dems and Reps figure that (if ever), they will appeal to fewer and fewer voters who are desperate to see a 21st-century politics that reduces the size, scope, and spending of government while giving more options and freedom to people to live the lives they imagine for themselves.
On top of that, 58 percent of respondents said they're open to voting for a non-Republican, non-Democratic candidate.
Trump and Clinton are both north of 50 percent in terms of disapproval and it seems unlikely that will change all that much. Election 2016 may well be a battle of attrition, where the ultimate victor squeaks in with considerably less than 50 percent. Recall that in 1992, 1996, and 2000, the winner pulled less than a majority of the popular vote, and since then, voters have become even less enamored of the major parties.
All of which is to say this election is already providing the most-fertile ground for a powerful third-party or independent run. Is the Libertarian Party (LP), the only other party that will be on the ballot in all 50 states, ready for that challenge? The LP picks its nominee next weekend and whether it turns out to be the 2012 nominee, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, or someone else, the candidate will need to be serious in a way that he didn't need to be in past elections. What is the grand theme of the LP candidacy? What are broad-brush points on war, spending, taxes, and the like? It's worth pointing out that Johnson is already getting 10 percent in a new Fox News poll and got 11 percent in a Monmouth University survey a month or so ago. That almost certainly reflects the interest in anybody other than Clinton or Trump rather than anything specific to Johnson or the LP.
As Matthew Dowd noted on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos this morning, the role of a third party or independent candidate isn't necessarily to win but to represent large numbers of people who feel left out by the visions of America sketched out by the Republican and Democratic Parties.
Particularly when it comes to the LP, that means having specifics to show you're competent and serious (what parts of government are you going to cut, Mr. LP candidate?) but also a large vision of what sort of America the LP envisions. One of the LP candidates, Austin Petersen has already trotted out a version of Canadian politician Tim Moen's 2014 vision: "I want gay married couples to be able to protect their marijuana plants with guns." (For what it's worth, Moen's electoral results haven't been great so far.)
But what about his slogan? Is it a starting point for suggesting what a Libertarian presidential candidate should be saying? Suggest thematic frames and slogans for the LP and independent candidates in the comments below.