Mainstream coverage of Gary Johnson: Is he a spoiler?

The mainstream media has begun to pay a little more attention to Libertarian Gary Johnson as of late, and has begun to bring out the spoiler card. Despite polling between 6 and 9%, according to the media it all comes from disaffected Republicans.

Libertarian presidential candidates typically struggle to win even 1 percent of the vote in the critical electoral bloc of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. But Johnson isn’t a typical libertarian nominee. He’s a former two-term New Mexico governor with a greater familiarity with elections and campaigning.

Given the competitive nature of those states — to varying degrees, all are expected to be close in November — it wouldn’t take much to affect the outcome in any of them.

According to recent polls from PPP, a Democratic firm, Johnson draws 7 percent in Colorado and 9 percent in Arizona. In May, a poll done for the Democratic group Patriot Majority had Johnson at 12 percent in his home state of New Mexico.

Much, but not all, of Johnson’s support is coming out of Romney’s hide. And that could be a problem going forward for Republicans because as the Libertarian Party nominee, anywhere Johnson qualifies for the ballot, he provides a safe harbor for disaffected Ron Paul supporters in November.

Read the rest at Politico: The GOP’s Gary Johnson quandary

His recent visit to Denver, Colorado also got him some coverage from the Denver Post.

Johnson’s strengths introduce an interesting dynamic: If the presidential race in Colorado is as close as some pundits predict, Johnson could end up being compared with third-party candidates Ralph Nader in 2000 and Ross Perot in 1992, viewed as spoilers in those presidential races.

Which party would likely benefit from a Johnson surge?

During a campaign swing through Colorado — where he marched in the gay-rights PrideFest on Sunday and spoke in favor of a ballot measure to regulate marijuana like alcohol Monday — Johnson downplayed such speculation.

“I’ve never viewed myself as a spoiler because I believe I’m going to take equally from both sides,” Johnson said just before a news conference at a Denver medical-marijuana business.

“Mitt Romney talks about balancing the budget, but he talks about growing the military and holding Medicaid harmless. Well, I did finish second-grade math, and it doesn’t add up,” Johnson said. “I want to repeal the Patriot Act. I want to end the drug war. I’m better than President Obama on civil liberties.”

Read the rest at Presidential hopeful Gary Johnson, Libertarian from New Mexico, attempts to woo voters

And finally, Newsmax wanted to weight in on the spoiler idea.

The Libertarian candidate says his uphill campaign would be a lot easier if he were allowed to debate on the same stage with Obama and Romney. That would give him, he told the Post, “a real possibility of winning.”

But, he added, “If I do end up in the spoiler role, that’s more attention to the issues then.”

Read more on Libertarian Gary Johnson: ‘I’m No Spoiler’

Gary Johnson is a two term Governor of New Mexico and is running for President as the Libertarian Party nominee.

40 thoughts on “Mainstream coverage of Gary Johnson: Is he a spoiler?

  1. paulie

    Much, but not all, of Johnson’s support is coming out of Romney’s hide.

    Politico’s opinionating on this contradicts the actual poll they cite, which shows Johnson drawing about equally from Obama and Romney and leaving the balance between the two about the same as it would be without him in the race while taking 7%.

    Johnson’s twitter and blog posts as well as his media appearances promote the civil liberties, and to a lesser extent foreign policy, views where we are to the left of Obama and the Democrats more than the economic issues. See!/GovGaryJohnson


    To the extent I have seen polling, people who describe themselves as “very liberal” said they were more likely to vote for Johnson than those who called themselves somewhat liberal, somewhat conservative or very conservative.

  2. paulie

    “Spoiling” implies that someone else is entitled to people’s votes no matter how much they betray the issues that cause people to vote for them.

    We aren’t spoiling their election chances; they are spoiling their own by driving people away.

  3. paulie

    “During a campaign swing through Colorado — where he marched in the gay-rights PrideFest on Sunday and spoke in favor of a ballot measure to regulate marijuana like alcohol Monday….”

    EXACTLY what I want to see the LP and its candidates do more of!

    I love this aspect of the Johnson campaign.

  4. paulie

    Good article in the Denver paper.


    ” Ross Perot in 1992, viewed as spoilers…”

    According to exit polls, had Perot not run, 38% of his voters would have voted for Bush, 38% for Clinton, and the rest would not have voted at all or would have voted for another alternative candidate.

  5. Austin Battenberg Post author

    Agreed on all four points.

    But since Johnson is doing better then Barr in every facet, my opinion is that the media will have no choice but to label him a spoiler and repeat it over and over again until the mindless voters once again choose to vote for the “lesser” of two evils.


  6. Robert Capozzi

    p: people who describe themselves as “very liberal” said they were more likely to vote for Johnson than those who called themselves somewhat liberal, somewhat conservative or very conservative.

    me: Yes, intuitively, people who are more likely to think outside the box are more likely to vote for a third party candidate. “Very conservative” is probably more likely to capture full-spectrum conservatives, and full-spectrum conservatives are more inclined to take an Anyone but Obama stance.

    So, yes, GJ will pull from both “left” and “right,” but I wouldn’t read TOO much into this particular data…


    My take on GJ’s poll numbers are that people are picking “someone who isn’t Romney or Obama” and don’t really know who GJ is or what Libertarians stand for. When I came back from Las Vegas convention, I found no one – no one! – who had a clue who GJ was. I can believe the New Mexico results but find it hard to believe that more than 1% know who GJ is, let alone say they are going to vote for him.

  8. Ike Corona

    Robert @8

    Wouldn’t that hold equally true for “very liberal” and “very conservative” in mirror image?

    The poll apparently showed that very liberal people like Johnson more than very conservative people and more than moderates.

    ATBAFT is correct about name recognition. A few minutes at sending letters to the editor of a few newspapers would be a good use of everyone’s time here.

  9. Robert Capozzi

    10 IC, no. If Obama wasn’t running for re-election, it might be. In addition, in my experience, “very liberal” types are more open-minded than “very conservative” types. There are dogmatists and non-dogmatists in both groups, but “very conservatives” seem more dogmatic. GJ being pro-choice and pro-marriage equality makes his a non-starter for most very conservatives. GJ’s 43% cut proposal, however, is not a non-starter for a lot of very liberals.

    But this is only my anecdotal and intuitive sense of things….

  10. Ike Corona

    GJ being pro-choice and pro-marriage equality makes his a non-starter for most very conservatives. GJ’s 43% cut proposal, however, is not a non-starter for a lot of very liberals.

    This is true.

    However it seems he spends more time talking about issues such as marijuana and gay rights than about tax and spending cuts, just my impression.

    Not that I have a problem with that, I think it’s about time Libertarians did that.

  11. Dale Sheldon-Hess

    Even in Colorado, basically no one knows Johnson, and the “very liberals” who are most-likely to vote for him, are the ones who know him the least. (Check out the cross-tabs on PPP’s original report: They’re always enlightening.)

    This far from an election, third parties always poll this well (actually… they usually do better than this), but by election day, 90% of the people who say they’ll vote for them, vote for someone else (almost always one of the top-two) instead.

    If he’s only getting 6-9% now, in his home state, I’m going to say he won’t be branded a spoiler, because he won’t get enough votes to even get that far.

    I wish him the best though, and I’m glad the Libertarian Party of Colorado still advocates for approval voting, which would greatly mitigate the fear of spoilers.

  12. Richard Winger

    I think it is fair to say that Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign injured President George H. W. Bush. I agree with the exit polls. But what they don’t reflect is that during all 3 general election presidential debates in October 1992, Perot relentlessly criticized Bush and said nothing against Clinton. I think Perot influenced people to vote for Clinton during those debates.

    So, the exit polls don’t reflect Perot’s influence; they just report how people would have voted if Perot hadn’t been on the ballot. Those two things aren’t the same thing. This is why “spoiling”, as a clear concept, completely falls apart when people really analyze it. The term should not be used by responsible journalists or commentators.

  13. GW Hayduke

    If the Republicans don’t want to lose votes to Gary Johnson, they should consider nominating a better candidate than Mitt Romney. If the Democrats don’t want to lose votes to Gary Johnson, they should find a better candidate than Barack Obama.

    The Rs & Ds have no one to blame but themselves. That won’t stop them from trying to put the blame anywhere else.

  14. Jill Pyeatt

    Seriously, I think the fact the Romney is the front-runner is a myth. Does anyone see bumper stickers or yard signs with his name? What if Republic apathy over him is so bad that they don’t even bother to vote (okay, well I can hope that will be the case at least through August–).

  15. paulie

    If he’s only getting 6-9% now, in his home state,

    Not his home state. Your larger point is correct that the percentage tends to fall as the election gets closer. There have been a (very) few exceptions, such as Ventura for Governor.

  16. Ted Brown

    @2 “Spoiling” also means that there must be something pure and fresh that is altered in a way as to make it putrid or awful. In the case of the presidential election, Libertarians are the “anti-spoilers,” i.e. trying to make something new and fresh out of a system that is already spoiled.

  17. Wills, not Willis

    @16 There are a lot of compilations, e.g., and polls, and they mostly agree that Obama is substantially in the lead, not all by as much as the 13% lead that the latest Bloomberg poll claims.

  18. paulie

    It’s true – I don’t think I’ve spotted a single Romney or bumper sticker or yard sign that I can remember. I’ve seen plenty of anti-Obama stuff though, so that is where Romney will get his votes. I still think Obama will win but I could be wrong, I was wrong about Hillary beating him for the nomination for example.

  19. Reed Ebarb

    I am a young man and I was’t really paying attention when Barr ran but is Johnson doing better now than Barr was at this time 4 years ago?

  20. Mike Jones

    I think so. My memory is not perfect on this but that’s what I seem to remember.

  21. Richard Winger

    Barr didn’t qualify for primary season matching funds. Also he had to struggle very hard to get the LP nomination, only winning on the 5th ballot. By contrast, Gary Johnson got it easily on the first ballot. Also the LP presidential nomination in 2008 was almost a month later than this year’s national convention, so Johnson has somewhat more of a head start than Barr did.

  22. Reed Ebarb

    @25 and @anyone in general: Would anyone say that Barr was more Libertarian than Johnson or visa-versa?

  23. Robert Capozzi

    27 re, no, there is no measuring stick of L-ness. But I do prefer GJ’s approach as a candidate

  24. Reed Ebarb

    I was asking more of a general opinion. In everyones opinion, do you think Barr was more Libertarian or Johnson. I am just trying to get background seeing as I was not focused on politics at that age and time of my life

  25. Austin Battenberg Post author

    I would say that 2008 Barr was “about” as libertarian or slightly less so then Johnson today. Mostly because Johnson’s support of the fair tax. Barr wasn’t all that bad, however he did resort to the states rights position on things like gay marriage or drug laws, rather then call for legalization of both like Johnson does.

    If you are talking about Barr today, Johnson is much more libertarian by a mile.

    The thing is, despite 2008 Barr being pretty libertarian, he still talked like a conservative, and came from the Republicans as a conservative. Thus, he turned off many potential voters from the left. I think he was betting his cards that he would get all the Ron Paul supporters. After all, Ron Paul in 2008 got 1 million votes in the primary, if they all voted for Barr, he could have broke the LP record.

    But he wanted to be the only “third choice”, thus flubbed Paul’s efforts to bring together all the third party candidates. By doing so, he unknowingly pushed away a lot of potential Paul support.

  26. Steve M

    well….. I for one am happy that our current candidate was pro choice, pro legalization and decreasing the size and intrusiveness of the government while he was an elected official. Our previous candidate was anti-gay, anti-legalization of pot while he was an elected official. We have a candidate that is far less embarrassing now then our last one.

  27. paulie

    To the extent that people were aware of Barr in 2008 – which did not seem to be much – most were still considering him to be the same Bob Barr that he had been in office, and he was not leading them to think otherwise nearly strongly enough (a conscious campaign strategy which he told me himself).

    Johnson’s record in office is a lot better, so he doesn’t have to run away from it. However, I will grant that among my friends and family on the left there are still people that refuse to listen to anything else after they hear “former Republican governor” and “former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination for this year’s election.”

  28. NewFederalist

    I think Gary Johnson is FAR more libertarian than Bob Barr ever was. I lived in New Mexico while Johnson was governor and he did things that made the state GOP cringe all the time. I also don’t understand why he doesn’t lose his “Fair Tax” nonsense. I suspect taking that position was supposed to be the radical discriminator to set him apart while he was seeking the Republican nomination but he must know by now that Libertarians consider it statist and totally immoral at its core. I also think he should have pardoned every drug convict in New Mexico (at least those incarcerated for possession) but even with those two “downers” he is far and away more libertarian than Barr.

  29. DSZ

    I distinctly remember Barr polling 4-5% in the summer of 2008 nationwide, whereas Johnson is polling 6-8%. Barr distinguished himself less than Johnson and went on Glenn Beck to pander to disgruntled Republican future tea-partiers, which was futile considering Sarah Palin’s nomination as VP swept most of those up. He also shunned debates, said global warming was a scam, made comments throwing Ron Paul under the bus, and was generally a prick, whereas Johnson has a much better record as governor and is facing worse opponents imo. Now if Ron Paul can just put in a word for Johnson with Peter Thiel, we might have something going here.

  30. wolfefan

    Hi Austin @5 – absolutely right about the picture. Now if the official LP site will update theirs – it’s on the banner link, and it doesn’t look any better small than it did big!

  31. Alan Pyeatt

    Well, OF COURSE the LSM is going to paint Gary Johnson as a spoiler. They know that both Obama and Romney will keep their corporate masters’ trough well slopped, and Gary Johnson will spoil their little party. So they have to play on Joe Sixpack’s fears by telling them that if they vote for Johnson, that Bad Guy will win the election. So our task is to convince Joe that they are both working for the same boss (which isn’t hm), and the only way to stop these parasites (yes, I’m mixing metaphors; just imagine a parasitic hog) is to vote for the real Freedom Candidate. And we have to show them that even if Freedom Candidate doesn’t win, the more votes he gets, the more he forces Bad Guy 1A and Bad Guy 1B to move toward his positions.

    This is nothing new. It’s the same drama every election. If we want to write a better ending, we have to use the alternative media more effectively and start getting through to Joe Sixpack, no matter how stupid, lazy, and greedy he is.

    And boy, is he ever. Both the Demicans and the Republicrats know how to use this to their advantage. While we don’t have the government give-away techniques they can use, we still need to find better ways to counter their tactics.

  32. Ben Gleck

    It’s all been said and done over and over and will be said and done this time too. We have to reach as many people as we can knowing we’ll miss a lot more than we can reach.

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