NBC/SurveyMonkey is out today with its latest weekly presidential poll, which shows the headline race tightening slightly–42 percent to 40 percent for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in a four-way race, compared to 41-37 the week before; with the two-way race at 48-44 compared to the previous 48-42. Libertarian-watchers, however, will be particularly interested in this sentence from the NBC News write-up: "Libertarian Gary Johnson maintains 11 points, essentially unmoved even after his 'Aleppo' campaign gaffe[.]"
Does this mean, as The Week interpreted the results, that "Gary Johnson comes out of 'What is Aleppo' gaffe unscathed"? I think that conclusion is premature.
The poll was taken from Sept. 5-11; the Aleppo incident took place early on the morning of Sept. 8, or at the halfway point. While, as I pointed out in a post Sunday, two of the three other national polls whose survey period overlapped with Sept. 8 produced poll highs for Johnson (and the third represented an increase over three weeks previous), we won't get a true picture until we start getting some fully post-Sept. 8 results. And though NBC described today's Johnson number as "essentially unmoved," it's still down one percentage point from his high of 12 percent the previous week. (The three polls before that featured Johnson at 11 percent; one of the interesting notes from this election is how stable the third-party candidates' numbers have been.)
I fully expect Aleppo to have no visibly measurable impact, but we'll see. Meanwhile, PolitiFact has taken upon itself to fact-check Libertarian vice presidential nominee William Weld's assertion during a recent reddit "Ask Me Anything" exchange that "76 percent of all voters in the United States say they want Johnson-Weld, by name, in the presidential debates." In the course of what feels like a pretty trivial exercise, the organization does provide some useful breakdown of the three polls showing clear majorities of Americans desiring to see third-party candidates in the upcoming presidential debates.
"The 76 percent figure comes from a Suffolk University poll conducted for USA Today [between Aug. 24-29] and released Sept. 1," PolitiFact notes, and the relevant question was "If a third-party presidential candidate is certified by a majority of state ballots, should he or she be included in the debates this fall." Results: 76 percent "yes," 17 percent "no," 7 percent undecided/refused to say.
An Aug. 18-24 Quinnipiac survey asked, "Do you think that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, should be included in the presidential debates this year, or not?" Results: 62 percent said "yes," 29 percent "no," 9 percent don't know/didn't answer. And an Aug. 29-30 sampling by Morning Consult asked, "Should Gary Johnson be included in the presidential debates?" Results: 52 percent "yes," 22 percent "no."
The Republican/Democrat-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates, which serves as a self-appointed gatekeeper of which candidate does and does not qualify for inclusion in the debates, is scheduled to announce its decision about who makes the Sept. 26 face-off in "mid-September." The Libertarian Party ticket, which continues to put a brave face on meeting the CPD's debate criteria, has recently shifted focus somewhat to planning for real-time counter-programming outside the debates.