A new Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday will likely frighten Democrats. It shows a tightening race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But while some in the Clinton camp may panic, and Team Trump may be celebrating, there's another candidate who may truly be rejoicing at the results: Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. In a four-way race, Johnson earned 13 percent in the poll of likely voters.
When pitted head-to-head, Clinton led Trump by five points, but when the race was opened up to third-party challengers Johnson and Jill Stein of the Green party, Clinton’s lead shrunk to just two points.
The poll surveyed 960 voters from Sept. 8 to 13, part of which time included Clinton’s difficult weekend, with her calling half of Trump supporters “deplorables" at a fundraiser on Friday, and then nearly fainting after leaving a 9/11 memorial event on Sunday.
Clinton’s struggles in the last week may be benefitting Johnson, who is trying to get the 15 percent required in select polls so that he can qualify for the presidential debates. Johnson’s performance in the Quinnipiac poll matches his previous best, when he also polled 13 percent in a CNN/ORC July survey of registered voters. Unfortunately for Johnson, the Committee on Presidential Debates has said that only the national polls from ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, CNN-ORC, Fox News and Wall Street Journal/NBC will be used to determine eligibility for the debates.
The Quinnipiac poll highlights not only the continued struggle of the Clinton campaign to pull farther away from Trump, but also the stark difference in the Democrat’s performance when voters are given a third (or fourth) option.
Most interestingly, Johnson’s gaffe last week, when he asked on MSNBC, “What’s Aleppo?” in response to a question about the crisis in the Syrian city, seemed to have no effect on his polling numbers. In fact, the moment of media scrutiny might have given him a boost in the vein of “all news is good news.” USA Today reported that Johnson’s Facebook traffic spiked following the misstep. In comparison to Quinnipiac’s previous national poll, released in late August, Johnson is up three points.
Still, Johnson has a long way to go before he can start picking out his lucky debate tie: before he’ll qualify for the debates, he’ll need to average 15 percent across the five selected polls. Currently, Johnson's RealClearPolitics polling average is only 9.2 percent.
What remains to be seen is whether the tightening numbers between Trump and Clinton will force otherwise third-party supporters to cast their votes for one of the mainstream candidates — or more accurately, against one of them.