Washington – They won’t be on the stage for the presidential debates tonight, but Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein will be on the Connecticut ballot in November’s election, and are likely to pull votes from both major part candidates, especially Hillary Clinton.
Connecticut leans heavily Democratic in presidential elections, having last voted for a Republican in 1988 for former state resident George H. W. Bush. But the third-party candidates on Connecticut’s ballot this year are expected to cut into Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory.
“What we’ve seen in the national polls could make this a slightly closer race,” said Gary Rose, head of the political science department of Sacred Heart University.
National polls consistently show Stein and Johnson, a former Republican New Mexico governor whose running mate is former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, both cutting into Clinton’s lead over Republican rival Donald Trump.
That’s largely because Johnson is popular with independent and unaffiliated voters and Stein has support among the Democrats’ liberal wing.
A Sept. 23 national Marist poll showed Clinton led Trump by 7 percentage points, 48 to 41 percent. When Johnson and Green were added to the survey, Clinton’s lead dropped to 6 points, 45 to 39 percent.
Johnson was backed by 10 percent of likely voters polled, while Stein garnered 4 percent. Marist pollsters noted Johnson received the backing of 20 percent of independents polled.
“I see no reason why Connecticut would buck the norm,” Rose said.
Donald Schurin, a University of Connecticut political science professor, predicted Clinton support in Connecticut will be in “the mid 50s,” while Trump will win about 40 percent of the state’s voters. He said Johnson would receive about 4 or 5 percent of the vote and Stein 2 percent.
Schurin said those results would come close to the voter breakdown in Connecticut in 2000, when former Vice President Al Gore won 56 percent of the vote and George Bush 38 percent, with third-party candidate Ralph Nader winning 4 percent.
But this time support for third-party candidates in the state could be higher than when native son Nader ran for the White House. Nonetheless, they are not expected to do anywhere near as well as Independent Party candidate Ross Perot, who drew 21.6 percent of the state vote in 1992.
Forty one percent of the state’s voters are unaffiliated and lean toward the Democratic candidate in a presidential election. But Johnson will pull from those, Schurin said.
“He will also win support from Republicans in Connecticut who just cannot vote for Donald Trump but also find themselves unable to vote for Hillary Clinton,” he said.
Even though they may win votes in Connecticut, the third-party candidates have raised hardly any political cash in the state. As of the end of August, Johnson had raised about $46,000 and Stein had raised about $8,000.
Still, Connecticut’s history of backing independent candidates, like Lowell Weicker when he ran for governor, and its support for the Working Families Party with its tradition of cross-endorsement, make Connecticut fertile ground for third-party candidates, even if their supporters don’t swing the elections, Rose said.
The impact of the third-party candidates may be felt in the nation’s swing states this year, however.
In 2000 many blamed the Democrats’ loss of Florida, and the presidential election, on the votes cast for Nader. That has Democrats worried as the race in some swing states has tightened.
Probably because Johnson can’t make that kind of difference in Connecticut, he hasn’t campaigned in the state. His campaign did not respond to questions about why he or Weld haven’t visited Connecticut.
But Stein has, appearing most recently at Central Connecticut State University last week and asking the students, many of whom were wearing “Bernie” tee shirts, to join her Monday evening in a protest of her exclusion from the first presidential debate at New York’s Hofstra University.
But Schurin said Stein’s support is likely to fade.
He said progressives in the Democratic Party, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., “will make the case to every person left-of-center that their duty is to vote for Clinton and keep Trump out of the White House.”
Johnson has also protested his exclusion from Monday’s presidential debate and says he could pull even with Clinton and Trump in the polls if he were allowed on the stage.
“And it wouldn’t have anything to do with my debate performance, either,” Johnson told NBC News. “It would just be that people would recognize that there’s another choice and that there would be an examination of me and Bill Weld as who we are and what we’ve done…”
Rose said Clinton needs to “rattle” Trump “in a big way” Monday night to win the debate.
“If she can do that, she will force him into a behavior that won’t look presidential,” Rose said. Schurin also said Trump needed to look and act “presidential” at the debate.
But he said Clinton had to be careful not to go after Trump too strongly because her challenge is to appear warm and congenial.
“She has to show she’s approachable and that she’s level-headed and experienced and sincere,” Schurin said. “She also has to hope Trump self-destructs.”