Libertarian Gary Johnson is a mountain-climbing former Republican governor of New Mexico who also had a two-year stint as CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc., a Nevada-based company that sells medical and recreational marijuana products.
The Green Party’s Jill Stein is a Harvard-educated doctor and social activist who wants to create 20 million new jobs through a Green New Deal, a massive investment in renewable energy and other sustainable practices.
It’s Labor Day, the day long seen as the official unofficial start date of the presidential campaign season. The only problem for some? The candidates. As voters continue to express dissatisfaction with both of the major parties’ nominees, third parties are offering an alternative.
Johnson and Stein, the two getting the most attention, are reprising their roles on the presidential stage. Both received their parties’ backing in 2012.
Johnson wants to replace income and payroll taxes with a simple sales tax. He advocates a rollback of federal regulations that he says kill jobs. He would bring troops home and only send them out with congressional approval. And he wants to make pot legal.
“Whether you agree with marijuana legalization or not, you have friends, family, coworkers that use marijuana,” Johnson said in July, when asked about a California ballot measure that would legalize recreational use of the drug. “Are they criminal? No, they’re not criminal.”
Stein supports a “Medicare for all” single-payer health care system. She wants a $15 federal minimum wage and to guarantee a living-wage job to every American. Stein also backs marijuana legalization.
Her biggest departure from mainstream political views may be her position on Israel. She supports the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement to “end Israeli apartheid, occupation, war crimes, and systematic human rights abuses” against Palestinians. Both the Republican and Democratic platforms include planks specifically opposing the BDS movement.
Third parties haven’t made much noise in recent elections, but they have had a big impact in the past. The Green Party played a key role in 2000, when its candidate, Ralph Nader, was accused of siphoning votes from Democrat Al Gore in the decisive state of Florida. In the 1992 race between Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, independent Ross Perot received almost 20 percent of the popular vote.
Ron Paul, the Libertarian Party’s nominee in 1988, later sought the Republican nomination for president in 2008 and 2012. Unlike Paul, however, who long advocated abolishing the Federal Reserve and returning to a gold standard, Johnson’s views, save his stance on pot and noninterventionist foreign policy, are more in line with mainstream conservatives.
Johnson is familiar with uphill battles, having climbed many of the highest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest. But just last week, the Johnson campaign announced an endorsement and $117,700 donation from B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a longtime California conservative donor who also poured money into Proposition 47, a ballot measure passed in 2014 that reduced the penalties for some nonviolent crimes.
“I’m proud to support Gary Johnson for president because, like millions of other Americans this election cycle, I’ve grown tired of witnessing the nasty political mudslinging and angry rhetoric from both the right and left and am yearning for leadership that embodies honesty, civility and real solutions for our country,” Hughes said in a statement.
In deep-blue California, however, experts say third parties aren’t likely to change the expected outcome, let alone win.
“I don’t think that Hillary Clinton is in any danger,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the nonpartisan Field Poll, though he added that the state “could be ripe for third-party votes.”
Half of likely California voters surveyed in the latest presidential Field Poll said they support Clinton, giving her a 24-point lead over Republican Donald Trump. The poll included Johnson, who drew the support of 10 percent of the voters sampled, but left out Stein.
“When Stein is included, she does appear to take more votes away from Clinton than Trump,” DiCamillo said, noting that she will be added to the next Field Poll.
But DiCamillo also said voters in California generally have a more favorable view of Clinton and that “she doesn’t have the huge negative drag that she does elsewhere.”
Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California, also said that third parties in California are unlikely to influence results. He said PPIC data show that 6 percent of Democrats are considering voting for Stein and 6 percent of Republicans are considering voting for Johnson. Among independents, 1 in 6 are considering voting for either candidate.
One reason that third parties don’t fare well in the Golden State is the high cost of campaigning.
“The trouble is the state is so expensive as a media market that it’s very difficult for third-party candidates to mount a serious effort here,” said Jack Pitney, an expert in California and American politics at Claremont McKenna College.
Pitney said that even Perot did not have much of an impact in California in 1992. In a head-to-head between Clinton and Bush, Clinton still would have won, Pitney said. But he said Perot fared better than the polls showed he would have as voters realized Clinton was going to win and that they were free to vote for someone else. He said California could see this phenomenon again in 2016.
“You may get a higher-than-normal vote for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson,” he said.
One remaining question, DiCamillo said, is how those who supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary will vote in November. Both the Stein and Johnson campaigns say they are benefiting from Sanders voters unhappy with the major nominees.
“The Libertarian Party has been the home for disaffected Republicans for the last decade, and we’re just now seeing that with the Democrats,” said Matthew “Boomer” Shannon, the California director for the Johnson-Weld campaign. “We’re getting a lot of Bernie people.”
“A lot of former Bernie Sanders supporters are telling us they won’t vote for Hillary,” said Greg Jan, California coordinator for Jill Stein’s campaign. “We do expect to get a lot of support in California.”
Jan said his campaign is looking at the first week of October for a visit from Stein, and Shannon said Johnson is also expected to visit the state.
Johnson’s immediate goal is to make it onto the presidential debate stage by getting 15 percent support in an average of national polls.
If he does make it into the debates, Shannon said the campaign is preparing for a “wave of volunteers.” If he doesn’t, Shannon said their goal will be to have a strong showing in as many states as possible to secure ballot access in the years to come. Several states use presidential polls to decide which parties automatically qualify for the ballot.
“The parties are imploding, and people realize that,” he said.
Jan said his candidate also deserves to be in the debates, arguing that Perot was allowed to participate when he was polling at 7 percent. He said that all four candidates who have qualified for the ballot in enough states to win the presidency should be allowed to debate.
“When voters learn that Jill’s positions are very close to their own, we think a lot of them will be turning around and voting for Jill,” he said.
DiCamillo, however, said that third-party candidates trailing in the polls have historically fizzled out in the last few weeks before the election as voters choose between the top two contenders.
While California voters can choose a third-party candidates without worrying about the outcome of the race, DiCamillo said voters are rarely that strategic with their votes.
“It is the leader of the country, and I think that they’ll vote their preference whether in California or elsewhere,” he said.
Residence: Lexington, Mass.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Harvard College, 1973; medical degree, Harvard Medical School, 1979
Experience: Practiced internal medicine for 25 years. Nonprofit, advocacy work. Elected to Lexington Town Meeting. Green-Rainbow party candidate for Massachusetts state Legislature, secretary of state and governor. Green Party candidate for president in 2012.
Immigration: Wants to “create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants.” Would stop deportation and detention of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record. Would “demilitarize border crossings.”
Trade/economy: Supports a $15 federal minimum wage and wants to “guarantee a living-wage job for all.” Supports expanding paid sick and family leave. Wants to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade arrangements in favor of more protectionist trade deals. Wants wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their “fair share” of taxes and would impose a tax on financial transactions on Wall Street. Wants to create publicly owned banks.
Terrorism: Wants to cut military spending by 50 percent and close foreign military bases. Would withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Supports freezing assets of states sponsoring terrorism.
Guns: Supports expanded background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases. Also backs an assault weapons ban.
Health care: Supports a “Medicare for all” single-payer health system, eliminating private health insurance. Would use bulk purchasing deals to lower cost of prescription drugs. Supports expanded access to contraceptives and reproductive care.
Climate: Supports a “Green New Deal,” a transition to entirely renewable energy by 2030 coupled with investments in other environmental cleanup efforts. Opposes fracking, off-shore drilling and any investment in fossil fuels, including natural gas. Against nuclear and fossil-fuel subsidies. Supports a moratorium on GMO and pesticide use unless they are proven harmless.
Birthplace: Minot, N.D.
Residence: Taos, N.M.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science, University of New Mexico, 1975
Experience: Founder of Big J Enterprises, a New Mexico-based construction company, 1976; governor of New Mexico, 1995-2003; Libertarian candidate for president, 2012; CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc., 2014-16
Immigration: Wants to make it easier to enter the country legally and get work permits. Opposes building a border wall.
Trade/economy: Supports replacing income and payroll taxes with a consumption tax, reducing regulation to create job growth. Is generally supportive of free trade but has expressed reservations about NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Terrorism: Says the military’s sole purpose is defense. Opposes foreign intervention and military action without congressional approval.
Guns: A gun owner himself, he has said that concealed-carry laws can deter crime and that more gun ownership could reduce gun violence.
Health care: Johnson supports health care delivered by the free market. Has said he would be open to signing legislation replacing Obamacare.
Climate: Says government should “enforce reasonable environmental protections” and supports the Environmental Protection Agency. Also says a well-functioning free market can protect the environment more than regulation can.