In October of 2015, Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson wrote a public letter about why he might decide to run for President. The letter, published on various social media outlets, described his record as Governor, his intentions, and the public’s willingness to accept a third-party candidate as President. “Maybe,” he wrote, “just maybe, America is ready.”He might be right.Gary Johnson is the Presidential candidate running on the Libertarian Party ticket alongside former Massachusetts Governor William Weld. Both of these men are former Republicans, but no longer identify with the party. They are proponents, instead, of the Libertarian ideology: socially liberal, fiscally conservative, with a strong helping of isolationist foreign policy and a major dose of small government.This message has seen Johnson/Weld polling numbers rise to an historic 13% against Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. At 15%, Gary Johnson would be eligible to participate in the presidential debates, something no Libertarian candidate has ever achieved.
Gary Johnson’s message seems to resonate especially with military service members and veterans. In a recent informal poll conducted by the popular military-oriented Facebook page Doctrine Man, Johnson garnered 36.7% of the overall vote among a blend of active-duty, retired and veteran military and their families. Trump came in second, with 30.7%, and Clinton took a distant third, with only 15.1% of total votes.Johnson is undoubtedly helped by Clinton and Trump’s staggering unpopularity. Military Times polling showed that 61 percent of American military personnel are dissatisfied with the Republican nominee, while 82 percent were dissatisfied with Clinton. The polling also shows third-party candidate popularity that is far above the national percentages: 28.6% of Navy sailors would vote for a third-party candidate (of whom Johnson is by far the most popular) if the election were held tomorrow.It’s easy to see why the other candidates are disliked by the historically conservative veteran demographic. Clinton has Benghazi, top-secret emails and the Democrat label. Trump is liked more, but his comments are still seen as highly offensive by a wide range of minority groups, all of whom are represented in the diverse American military.Johnson’s popularity is a bit more difficult to explain. Perhaps it is because the active military is young and millennial; more than half are under 30 years of age and over two-thirds are under 35. Millennials have been polling very strongly for both Johnson and Trump, in lieu of their previous candidate of choice, Bernie Sanders.His popularity among millennials could also be due to the appeal of the independent spirit of Libertarianism: the ideology embraces the small-government, money-oriented side of conservatism, without delving into the social moralizing that comes with traditional Republican dogma.[caption id="attachment_7183" align="aligncenter" width="640"]
Gage Skidmore / Flickr[/caption]In other words, Gary Johnson waxes conservative when he talks about reducing the deficit, cutting wasteful spending, and lowering taxes, but rejects the parts that don’t jive with millennials. He supports abortion rights for women and embraces gay marriage, issues which are important to the religious right. Millennials, on the other hand, are the least-religious generation of Americans ever, and identify as liberals when it comes to social issues.Add to all of this the tendency to accept alternative sexualities, support for the legalization of marijuana (even among conservative millennials), and the runaway success of similar renegade campaigns (Sanders), and a Johnson/Weld presidency looks more and more appealing to young people.That’s not to say Gary Johnson doesn’t face challenges. “Never in U.S. history has a third-party candidate been elected President,” writes Sahil Kapur in Bloomberg politics. Most, including Ralph Nader and Ross Perot, never even receive one electoral vote.The difference between the Libertarians and previous campaigns, then, will be whether or not they poll high enough to reach the 15% mark necessary for debate participation. A national stage could be the perfect opportunity for Johnson to reach an unhappy electorate, and offer a real alternative to the current two-party system and its unpopular candidates.