The Gary Johnson Effect

Joe Trippi, a long-time Democratic campaign operative, argues that Gary Johnson—former Republican governor of New Mexico and current Libertarian Party nominee—could have an outsized influence on the presidential election:

[R]emember that Ralph Nader didn’t crack 3% of the popular vote in 2000 – yet he completely changed the outcome of that race.

Gary Johnson, meanwhile, is currently polling at 5.3% in the latest Zogby national poll. […]

Johnson could make a major dent in the general election – because he is currently doing better than most people realize in several key swing states.

Most pollsters don’t even include Gary Johnson in their polling. But recent polling that included him showed Johnson drawing 9% of the vote in Arizona, 7% in Colorado and New Hampshire – and 13% in his home state of New Mexico

Trippi suggests otherwise, but if Gary Johnson were to make a Nader-like performance in this year’s election, odds are best that he would cost Mitt Romney the election. Remember, the Republican Party is still incredibly unpopular, and Romney wins a significant portion of his support from people who oppose President Obama. It’s almost certainly the case that Romney’s coalition includes a critical number of anti-Obama, anti-GOP voters. If Johnson were to peel some of those voters away, especially in swing states like Ohio and Florida—which have a substantial number of undecided voters—then he would raise Romney’s ceiling for victory. It wouldn’t guarantee a loss, but it would make a win more difficult.

Of course, it’s still too early to say if Johnson will have any kind of an impact. Regardless, it would behoove the Romney campaign to pay attention to his performance, and perhaps begin to appeal to his supporters.