How Gary Johnson Stacks Up To Bernie Sanders

by Morgan Brinlee

There may be no better time to be a third-party presidential candidate. Between the Never Trump and Never Hillary factions, third parties are experiencing a bit of an surge. While Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party struggled to convert some of Sen. Bernie Sanders' most die-hard supporters in Philadelphia, the Libertarian Party had already launched an aggressive campaign to woo them. But how do Gary Johnson and Bernie Sanders really compare? The two may not have as much common ground as Johnson would have you believe.

There's something a bit ironic about a former Republican governor touting himself as a viable alternative to a self-described democratic socialist. Yet things get truly perplexing when you look into how the Libertarian nominee came to believe he and Sanders were on the same page. Johnson, you see, took an online quiz that reportedly claimed he sided with Sanders 73 percent of the time.

"Of course I side with myself 100 percent of the time," Johnson told C-SPAN's Washington Journal back in June. "But interestingly, of all the presidential candidates, I next side with Bernie Sanders at 73 percent."

As Johnson tells it, he and Sanders are both pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, pro-marijuana, and anti-military interventions and crony capitalism.

Despite coming of age in an era where online quizzes ruled, I remained skeptical of Johnson's claim. Here's how I found Johnson and Sanders stacked up on the issues.

On Abortion

As a staunch supporter of a woman's right to choose, Sanders campaigned on a platform that included expanding funding for Planned Parenthood and nominating Supreme Court justices who support upholding Roe v. Wade. I found Johnson's answer to the question of abortion to be a little muddled. On his official campaign website, it states that although Johnson "in his personal life... believes in the sanctity of the life of the unborn," he "recognizes that the right of a woman to choose is the law of the land." Moreover, Johnson often touts his record of supporting restrictions on abortion access, which includes arguing that public funds not be used for abortions and signing a law banning "late-term abortion" while serving as governor of New Mexico.

On Wages, Gender Pay Gap, And Unions

While Sanders supports a plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2020, Johnson does not. In fact, Johnson would eliminate all federal wage standards and does not believe that employers should be required to pay men and women the same salary for the same work (but personally thinks they probably should). Sanders, on the other hand, vowed to sign the Paycheck Fairness Act into law and called the gender pay gap "a national disgrace." While Johnson is against government mandates regarding paid family leave, Sanders campaigned on a platform requiring employers to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. As a senator, Sanders has introduced legislation aimed at strengthening the role of unions. Johnson said he believes unions "hurt" the economy.

On Education And Reducing Interest Rates For Student Loans

As a politician with a strong belief in smaller government, Johnson has said he would seek to eliminate a significant number of federal agencies, including the Department of Education. The Libertarian candidate "believes there is no role for the federal government in education" and does not support Sanders proposal to raise taxes on Wall Street or the one percent to reduce student loan interest rates. In an interview with the International Business Times, Johnson voiced support for abolishing guaranteed government student loans altogether. He claimed it would force colleges to drop tuition prices because many students would be unable to afford the cost of a higher education. Sanders supported tuition free public colleges and providing low-income students with federal, state, and college financial aid.

On Corporate Income Tax

If president, Johnson told he would prefer to abolish corporate income tax but would support reducing it. That's a far cry from Sanders' call to "demand that the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations pay their fair share in taxes."

On Health Care

Johnson believes government should not be involved in health care. He does not support President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, nor does he support an increase in Medicaid. During his primary campaign, Sanders said he believed "health care is a right not a privilege." He supported Medicare for all and a single-payer national health care program.

On Corporate Donations To Political Candidates

Sanders supporters know campaign finance reform was a central issue for the Vermont senator. Sanders advocated for overturning Citizens United and removing big money from politics by eliminating Super PACS, and passing a constitutional amendment giving Congress and the states the authority to regulate money in elections. In Johnson's mind, "any restrictions on campaign spending violates the First Amendment." He believes corporations and Super PACS should be allowed to donate freely to political candidates.

On Climate Change

While Johnson has said climate change "probably" exists he does not believe in attempting to reduce it through environmental regulations. According to Johnson, the government should not have the power to subsidize one source of energy over the other, rather he believes in an unimpeded market. "Preventing a polluter from harming our water or air is one thing. Deciding in Washington that one source of energy should be subsidized and others penalized is a different matter," Johnson's official campaign website says. He does not support taxing carbon emissions. Unsurprisingly, Sanders has a markedly different idea about tackling climate change. The senator advocated for "bold action" on climate change, including transitioning away from fossil fuels by putting a tax on carbon and supporting efforts to develop clean energy sources.

In a push to attract burned out Bernie or Bust voters, Johnson has been highlighting his "socially liberal" opinions while downplaying his fiscally conservative viewpoints. But while Johnson may share some of Sanders opinions when it comes to social issues, his alignment with the Libertarian Party means he doesn't believe in the federal protection of these rights. On the surface the Libertarian candidate may appear to have some similarities with the Democratic runner-up, but a closer examination leads me to believe the Johnson's claim to side with Sanders 73 percent of the time is likely exaggerated.