By Matthew Pertz, Opinion Editor
For many voters, the 2016 presidential candidates have been wildly disappointing. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have the highest unfavorable poll numbers in the past ten election cycles, with 55 percent of Americans disliking Clinton and a whopping 70 percent disliking Trump.
Those voters looking for relief from the two party system have turned to two offbeat presidential candidates who are picking up steam as November nears.
For conservatives supporting the #NeverTrump movement, meet Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Johnson served as the governor of New Mexico for eight years and was a card-carrying member of the Republican Party until 2011, when his presidential ambitions pushed him to join the Libertarians.
The 63 year-old is joined on the ticket by Bill Weld, another Republican convert and former governor. Their views are moderate by Libertarian standards (most of the other party candidates opposed parts of the Civil Rights Act and favored eliminating driver’s competency tests) but still come down to one simple principle: the government is too involved in people’s privates lives. Johnson believes the government needs to let people make their own choices on abortion, drugs, education and a myriad of other things.
As for liberals concerned by Clinton’s questionable dealings in the State Department, Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party is a trustworthy alternative. The Greens have long been known for their tree-hugging environmental priorities (think peak Ralph Nader ca. 2000), but Stein drafted a more robust platform, including promises to restore voting rights for offenders, end America’s policy of supplying weapons to foreign armies and pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
Stein is running with Amaju Baraka, a human rights activist with the most nontraditional résumé of any VP choice. Baraka led the US Human Rights Network and Amnesty International, served at the 2001 World Conference on Racism and received the Human Rights Guardian award from the Na-tional Center for Human Rights Education.
Neither of these candidates are likely to win any states. A Public Policy Polling poll in Texas found Stein to only have 2 percent support, trailing Deez Nuts and tied with Harambe, the gorilla infamously killed by the Cincinnati Zoo after a small child fell into his enclosure.
But both candidates have the ability to shake up swing states. The latest poll from Georgia, home to 16 electoral votes, shows Clinton and Trump knotted at 43 percent support with Johnson snagging 11 percent. The state hasn’t cast its votes for a Democrat since Mr. Clinton’s first run in 1992.
The 1992 election was also the last time a third party candidate changed the dynamic of an election. Ross Perot, an independent from Texas, scored 19 million votes (18 percent of the electorate) but failed to win a single state. His biggest impact was stealing voters away from the like-minded incumbent George H. W. Bush and swinging big states like Ohio, Michigan and California.
Perot’s success was directly linked to his access to mainstream media. The Texan participated in all three presidential debates because he met the minimum threshold set by the Commission on Presidential Debates. In order for Johnson or Stein to emulate Perot’s success, they will need to cross the same line of 15 percent national support.
At the moment, 15 percent seems unobtainable for either candidate. Johnson’s best was 13 percent in an CNN/ORC poll in July, while Stein peaked at 7 percent in CNN’s June poll.
That is not to say that neither can reach the benchmark in the near future. Thanks to the national distaste for mainstream candidates, media outlets have been giving more airtime to fringe candidates. Within the past two months, CNN aired two primetime town halls with the Libertarian ticket and one with the Green.
As long as Trump and Clinton continue to turn off moderate voters, Johnson and Stein (and their parties) will continue to rise in the presidential discussion.