We all know that he had been, a few months back, a viable candidate in the Libertarian party, for progressives and conservatives, who were disaffected with Trump as the GOP nominee with his disgusting views and seemingly liberal views, or liberal voters, who either would not stick with the status quo, Clinton (more Obama, really!) or found her to lack charisma and likability.

Along with Jill Stein, the flip side of Johnson, a liberal from the Green Party, together in polls, 2-3 months back, they combined for +12-14% of the disenfranchised vote in 2016, with both candidates, perhaps the most disliked ever in the history of presidential elections. But slowly, Johnson has slipped from having 10%+ of the vote, and being a serious contender for the debate, to now eroding support, less news coverage and no real shot at creating magic from the presidency.

What happened? Are people coming back to Trump or Clinton, or are people starting to see through him, and his intellect (#aleppomoment)? Or is Stein siphoning off some of the anti-Trump or Clinton vote. Please respond down below.

  • 3
    As currently framed, this question is perhaps more suited to a forum than to Stack Exchange. Polling of third party candidates in the US is spotty at best, and not all polls showed the numbers you claim, see eg. the table at today.yougov.com/news/2016/10/16/…
    – origimbo
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 23:14
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    There is insufficient factual reference material to explain the drop. At best, an answer could present the supposition that "What is Alleppo," and other gaffes, mixed with the drastic view differences between him and his vice president pick, eroded his support. Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 23:30
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    @user9760 The answer to "are more people now..." different from "Why is Gary Johnson's...." Where the first can be demonstrated by reviewing the polling results, with particular attention to how the polls are done, the latter is prone to relying on opinion based observations and suppositions about why the numbers have shifted. Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 0:32
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    This is tagged with political-theory, but it appears to be about empirical phenomena. Do you want a theoretical answer, or an empirical one? Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 2:22
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    This question is based on a faulty premise that he was a viable candidate. Jokes aside, the only answer to this is mostly speculation by pundits.
    – user1530
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 7:25

4 Answers 4


According to previous elections, this is indeed true. Third-party candidates tend to lose support closer to the election dates. (graph below)

Usually, third-party candidates will hold onto their support into late August according to FiveThirtyEight.

Why is support for third-party candidates dropping?

There are a few reasons for this --

First and foremost, voters will start to make up their minds closer to the election date. One notable example is Ross Perot, who ran as an independent, after the Republican and Democratic conventions, who is widely considered to be the most successfully third-party candidate in modern days. Party conventions remind regular voters whether they are a Republican or a Democrat, increasing their support for major party candidates.

Secondly, some voters will realize that the third-party candidate they are supporting won't win even if they vote for them. Wouldn't it be a better idea to vote for Clinton to stop Trump or vice versa. At least, they cast a vote to stop their disliked candidate from getting into the White House (this is known in political theory as "tactical voting", and is one of the many reasons people consider FPTP electoral systems inferior to those like IRV).

Thirdly, you mentioned that third-party candidates might not have the intellect to be president, given the Aleppo moment and unable to mention a favorite world leader. After sometime, voters will realize this.

As to why Gary Johnson is polling below 10%, the fact is that he simply hasn't crossed the 10%+ threshold. The New York Times' average polling for Johnson constantly polls him below 10%, at around 8% to 9%. The FiveThirtyEight forecast model (Now-cast) has him at around 9% to 10%.

Both Johnson and Stein didn't have a real chance for the presidency from the very start, since their combined popular vote doesn't even exceed 20%. To win the presidency, one would require at the very least 30% of the popular vote.

Why is there lesser news coverage for third-party candidates?

This is because not many people think that Johnson, with 10% of the vote, will actually win, so does news organisations. Since they aren't going to win anyway, the news won't spend the time mentioning them.

Also, they don't have as much events as Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump; they aren't invited to the debates; they don't have a lot of rallies, there just isn't much things for news to mention.

If there are, news organisations will report them, for example McMullin was mentioned after a few good polls in Utah came out recently.


To sum up, the drop in support for third-party candidates is caused by all the reasons mentioned above. Even though both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are disliked, many people votes for the party, not for the candidate which explains why people still votes for Trump.

This is also how safe-Democratic and safe-Republican states come about. Some voters support the party, not necessarily the nominee.

Below is a graph that shows the level of support for past third-party candidates:

Image 1

Source: FiveThirtyEight

  • Overall, +1, excellent answer. But it seems ironic that a viewpoint that's judgemental of intellect doesn't even realize that there's a difference between intellect and informedness (the former is about ability to reason, the latter is about being familiar with a specific set of facts, some of which are more or less important to different people). In the big picture, you want to elect a leader capable of assembling and leading a good team (some of whom are experts on what Aleppo is).
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 14:09
  • @user4012 Thanks for the edit and comments, it does seem to be more of informedness than intellect regarding the Aleppo moment
    – Panda
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 14:29

A separate reason (somewhat alluded to indirectly in other answers) that is sometimes discussed by political wonks is signalling.

  • A voter initially, early in the electoral season, signals to the world (to the party, the candidates, the society) their dissatisfaction with the status quo and/or the current main two candidates, by supporting a third-party candidate.

    That signal might be merely for a person's internal satisfaction, or can be actually effective, if sufficiently noticeable when aggregated, to affect positions of the main candidates.

  • Either way, having sent the signal, the voter then reverts to more practical consideration of who will actually govern, and that is accomplished by tactical voting (namely, voting for the "least objectionable" of the two candidates in a 2-party first-past-the-post electoral system that US has).


What happened? Are people coming back to Trump or Clinton

Looking at the graph of the Real Clear Politics average over time, this is the most natural explanation. On June 29th, Johnson and Stein hit a high with support of 8.2 and 4.8 respectively for a combined 13%. Since then, Stein's support has dropped. Johnson's best was 9.2% on September 14th (Stein at 2.7%). As of October 18th, Johnson is at 6.4% and Stein at 2.4%.

In the meantime, Clinton and Trump combined for 79.1%, 82%, and 85% on the same dates. The totals for all four were 92.1%, 93.9%, and 93.8%.

are people starting to see through him, and his intellect (#aleppomoment)?

This wouldn't explain these kinds of numbers, as both Trump and Clinton have similar anecdotes. Clinton somehow thought a C, S, T marking system was like A, B, C, D rather than referring to classified material (C is for confidential). Trump didn't know why there were thirteen stripes on the US flag. Yet the two of them have been increasing in support.

Or is Stein siphoning off some of the anti-Trump or Clinton vote.

There is negative evidence of this happening. Stein has dropped from a high of 4.8% support to 2.4%. When Johnson was at his high, she was at 2.7%. If anything, the evidence leans the other way. Johnson's best result was after Stein's support dropped.

Along with Jill Stein, the flip side of Johnson, a liberal from the Green Party

Not much to do with this question, but I don't know that I'd describe Stein as the flip side of Johnson. On economics, Stein is the most pro-state of the candidates and Johnson the least. But on other issues, they agree or are at least more similar to each other than to the other two candidates. For example, on environmental issues, Johnson is closer to Stein than to Clinton and Trump. Both Stein and Johnson also criticize corruption in the current system. Johnson is generally considered the most liberal candidate on marijuana legalization.

Stein pulls almost entirely from Clinton. She's strictly more left wing. Johnson pulls more evenly from Trump and Clinton. He's more right wing on economics but to the left of them on most other issues like foreign policy, immigration, crime, etc.


Johnson did very well in the election I don't recall another Libertarian ever doing that well.

Why did his support drop?

  1. Aleppo- However most people missed that what Johnson was saying was more focused on the US than countries thousands of miles away. You could trip Hillary up the same way by asking her about the US economy.

  2. Johnson alienated a lot of his core by trying to sound more left wing than he actually was.

  3. People realized the election was going to be close and the vote against Hillary became more important than the vote for Johnson.

  4. Trump gained some appeal in the anti-establishment crowd. For many, it seemed like a moral victory just to get someone in there who would p*** off the establishment regardless of whether or not you agreed with Trump.

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