American voters might be frustrated by the negative tone of the presidential campaign. They might not like Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. And they might have little appetite for the two major political parties.
But those attitudes aren’t necessarily translating into support for third-party candidates in the upcoming presidential contest.
In early July, Gallup released a poll that included third-party candidates in addition to Obama and Romney. Just 3% of registered voters said they backed Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor; 2% volunteered Ron Paul’s name; 1% supported Green Party nominee Jill Stein; and another 1% offered names that weren’t listed in the poll.
In a June NBC/WSJ poll, however, 15% of registered voters said they would support an unnamed “independent” candidate over Obama and Romney.
Johnson originally competed for this cycle’s GOP presidential nomination, but he pulled out of the contest in Dec. 2011 after being unable to capture support (and participate in most of the Republican debates).
Stein is a physician and environmental-health advocate who ran against Romney in the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial election as the Green Party's nominee. She won the same party's presidential nomination in June 2012, and named her vice-presidential running mate Cheri Honkala in July 2012.
In previous presidential contests, third-party candidates like John Anderson (1980), Ross Perot (1992 and 1996) and Ralph Nader (2000) have garnered some support and gained national attention -- but none has managed to beat the Republican or the Democratic candidate in the general election. Ross Perot was so successful in his presidential run in 1992 that he made it to the national debates with George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, even at one point scoring higher in the polls than the other two.
The July Gallup poll also makes this pretty clear: The inclusion of third-party candidates comes at Romney’s expense. Indeed, with Johnson, Stein, and Paul added in the mix, Obama’s percentage was at 47% while Romney’s was at 40%.
By comparison, in the most recent Gallup head-to-head matchup between the two men, Obama and Romney are tied at 46%.