By Harry Enten | CNN
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan has formed an exploratory committee to run for president. The former Republican, who left the party last year, is seeking to lead the Libertarian ticket. He’s unlikely to get a large percentage of the vote or have any impact on who wins the election.
The polling on Amash is limited, but he’s averaged just over 2% of the vote nationally in the polling that does include him. The polls don’t show that he takes overwhelmingly from any one demographic group. Nor do they show him polling overwhelmingly with any one partisan group. Of course, with his core support being so small, that shouldn’t be too surprising.
It’s not that there isn’t some room for a third party bid. It’s just that such a candidacy would likely come from the left, not the right like Amash — someone more akin to the progressive Bernie Sanders. A little more than 10% of voters have an unfavorable view of both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in our March CNN/SSRS poll. Voters who dislike Biden and Trump are overwhelmingly young (75% under 45) and liberal (34% very liberal and 15% somewhat liberal). Very few are older than 45 or conservative (14%).
It should be noted most of these voters who disliked both candidates still voted for a major party candidate in 2016.
The chance of Amash’s polling moving significantly higher seems small. While it’s possible that Amash picks up some steam (especially initially) as he gets press coverage for announcing, third party candidates tend to lose ground in the polls over time. In March 2016, Libertarian Gary Johnson polled at 12% in a Monmouth University poll. He ended up with 3% of the vote, which was even smaller than most of the final polls had him.
Generally speaking, the 2016 election illustrated the problem with third party candidates. Trump and Hillary Clinton were the two least-liked major party candidates of all time. Yet, the two major party candidates still combined for 94% of the vote. This year, the two major party candidates are significantly better liked than the candidates were four years ago.
In the 2016 election, Johnson didn’t take any meaningful votes from Clinton. Nationally, the clear majority of Johnson voters said they would have stayed home if Clinton and Trump were the only two choices. Without Johnson on the ballot, the overall result would have shifted by less than 0.2 points.
That was also true in New Mexico, Johnson’s home state, where he performed the strongest with 9% of the vote. Among Johnson backers who chose Clinton or Trump in a hypothetical two-way matchup, Trump actually came out slightly ahead.
Speaking of home states, the one big question is what happens in Amash’s home state of Michigan. Clinton only won it by 0.2 points. If 2020 is as close as 2016, then there is a shot that any small bump for Amash could affect the outcome of the election. Right now, though, Biden holds a significant lead in Michigan (8 points in a recent Fox News poll). Very few voters in recent Michigan polls have volunteered that they wanted a third party option. It’s plausible that would change with a named option like the congressman.
Still, the election would likely have to become tighter and Amash would have to pull overwhelmingly from Biden to make a difference.
Is that possible? Sure. Is it likely? Based on the latest data, the answer is no.