Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Early Gary Johnson polling data: what it means and what it doesn't

Polling data for Libertarian candidates is always dicey.

They do better the further away from the election you happen to be.  Two variables drive that generally predictable decline:  (1) Many of the early undecideds pick "the other guy" rather than to say that they don't have a preference; and (2) the two-party candidates have not yet spent hundreds of millions in advertising to convince every last person that their third-party vote could make them a spoiler.

Nonetheless, if you measure the yardstick of success correctly, even early polling data is important, and useful.


I would count the Gary Johnson/Jim Gray ticket as the most successful in Libertarian Party history if it achieved 1,000,000 votes in the General Election, which would amount to roughly 8/10s of 1 percent of the total vote in 2008.

I would count the ticket as wildly successful if it achieved 1 percent of the vote in the General Election, which will probably be somewhere around 1,400,000 votes.

I would count the ticket as fantastically successful if the Libertarian candidates were actually invited into the contrived joint campaign appearances wrongly called "presidential debates."

I would count the ticket as successful beyond my wildest dreams if it garnered the guess-timated 6,500,000-7,000,000 votes in the General Election that would probably be necessary to reach 5% of the popular vote and thereby qualify the LP for tens of millions in Federal matching funds in 2016.

(I would be willing to live through four years, I think, of either Obama or Romney having won because Gary Johnson was a spoiler, because $90-100 million in Federal matching funds would be such a game-changer in American politics.  I realize that in this opinion I part company with a great many Libertarians, not to mention Republicans and Democrats.  But I would add an addendum that, in the even the LP did qualify for Federal matching funds in 2016, Wayne Allyn Root should be the subject of a special rendition and be placed in the Bagram, Afghanistan prison for that entire year.)

So those are my standards.

Here is the early polling data, such as it is.

On 19 April, Public Policy Polling found that in a three-way race, President Obama would get 47%, Governor Romney would get 42%, Governor Johnson would get 6%, and Undecided would account for 5%.  Of course, the same poll determined that only 25% of the respondents knew anything about him, and among those there was a 3-1 negative opinion.  So one could take the optimistic approach:  Johnson has legitimate spoiler cred, or one could take the pessimisstic view:  of the people who hear about him only 25% will even consider voting for him.

On 25 April, PPP published a poll on Johnson's home state, New Mexico, which was reported by Ballot Access News as finding the following:

The results: Obama 48%, Romney 35%, Johnson 15%, other or undecided 2%.
The poll shows that 10% of Democrats, 20% of Republicans, and 23% of independents and members of other parties choose Johnson. 

One would assume Johnson would do better in his home state than nationwide, but 15% probably stretches the far limits of election day credibility.  What the poll does begin to shed some light on, however imperfectly, is that idea that Johnson (a former Republican) could have as much appeal to Independents as Republicans, and could draw a smaller but still significant percentage of Democratic voters.  Being able to draw Democratic voters is critical to Johnson's credibility as a real candidate and not simply a Ralph Nader-Pat Buchanan spoiler.

The New Mexico poll is also interesting because there 79% of the respondents report themselves as familiar with Johnson, but he still loses the favorability ration by 42-37%.  This, however, seems to correspond to the fact that most New Mexicans know Johnson as a Republican, and his numbers in that regard are not dissimilar to Governor Romney's in a state that President Obama is currently seen as winning.

There is very little else out there yet with regard to Johnson's numbers, but these early ones are sufficient to raise an important question of political strategy.  The answer will go a long way toward determining if the Johnson/Gray ticket meets any of my standards of success for the LP candidate in 2012:

Will the Johnson campaign team be able to conduct the sort of analysis necessary to give the candidate data--not just opinions--regarding which voters are more likely to support him, and why?

Seeking 1,000,000 votes in a potential General Election voter total that could exceed 140,000,000 is a completely different proposition than Obama or Romney face, even leaving aside the huge disparity in resources.  Romney has to move from the retail politics of the primaries to the wholesale politics of the General Election, attempting to tailor his messsage to be congenial to the widest possible audience.  Governor Johnson is never going to be in the position to conduct even retail politics--he is in the boutique category.  He has to identify specific concentrations of voters who have the characteristics most likely to make them receptive to his message, and then he has to go out and get them.  Personally.

Randomly traveling around the country making small-scale campaign appearances among the faithful will not cut it.

To get 1,000,000 votes or better, Governor Johnson's campaign needs something that other Libertarian presidential campaigns have generally disdained:  a data-based political strategy.


tom said...

If Gary Johnson is getting 6% in national polls conducted by a fairly well known agency like PPP, the so-called "Debates Commission" and the League of Women Voters will have to change their rules to exclude him.
Greater than 5% in a recognized nationwide poll was always the hurdle that LP candidates failed to clear.

It will be fun to watch them try to explain why it's necessary to increase that number now that Johnson has succeeded.

Anonymous said...

An extremely good article with facts that closely reveal the Gary Johnson strategy. Gary Johnson has created an outline that will bring the LP into greater national attention than ever before and now it's time to get behind him and help him ring the bell of Liberty.

Mateusz Przewłoka said...

Wouldn't it be a shame if the LP accepted matching funds? I am a philosophical libertarian and the LP has been leaning towards pragmatism more and more since the departure of Harry Browne. I thought it was a shame when Bob Barr was the nominee last time around and if the LP accepts any government hand-out I will see that as a complete and utter defeat of the libertarian message.

Steven H. Newton said...

I disagree completely. If taxation to support "publicly funded" elections is theft, then I don't have any problem getting back as much of my money as possible in an effort to subvert the system.

tom said...

I disagree with Mateusz Przewłoka on several points:

- nominating Bob Barr wasn't pragmatic, it was stupid. We need an LNC that understands the difference and not one that believes that re-branding the party as Republican-lite is the way to win elections.

- the division in the party over accepting matching funds goes way farther back than Harry Browne.

- all taxpayers, including libertarians, are taxed to pay for the matching funds. the checkoff box on the tax return is a scam, as demonstrated by the fact that they raised the amount from $1 to $3 because to few taxpayers were checking it. if they really wanted the question to be meaningful, it would alter the amount of taxes you paid by $3. then we would have real data on how many taxpayers favor public funding of elections.
it would be best to eliminate the program entirely, but it is still foolish to refuse money that was stolen from people that support candidates and instead allow it to help elect our opponents.

Refusing the money doesn't generate any publicity for our ethical position that government handouts are wrong.

What I'd like to see instead, is for the LP to take all of the matching funds we can get, and then twice every election year, once during primary season and once during the general election all of our candidates who qualified hold a big press conference ceremony where they hand over giant "game show" checks of their matching funds to the treasury to pay down the debt, and challenge their opponents to do the same.