Deep dislike for the two leading presidential candidates is creating an opening for third-party hopefuls, potentially scrambling the race as voters cast about for alternatives, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows.
With majorities of registered voters holding negative views of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, two other candidates notched a level of support that could prove meaningful in a tight race.
Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein together drew backing from 16% of the 1,000 people surveyed. When voters had the option of choosing the third-party candidates, Mrs. Clinton’s lead over Mr. Trump dropped from 5 percentage points to 1 point.
The presence of third-party candidates on the ballot could add a measure of unpredictability to the election. The Libertarian Party expects to be on the ballot in all 50 states, the Green Party in at least three-quarters of states.
Mrs. Clinton led Mr. Trump by 46% to 41% when voters were asked which of the two they favored. Mrs. Clinton led by only a single point, 39% to 38%, when voters could also choose Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein.
On the four-candidate ballot, some 83% of those who favored Mrs. Clinton in a two-way race stuck with her as their preference, while 13% split off and threw their support to Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein.
Given the same choices, 89% of Trump voters stayed loyal to him, while 9% moved to Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein.
The poll also shows that independent voters could be an important factor in the election. Polling in the fall of 2012 found that only 11% of independents favored third-party candidates in that presidential race, compared with 35% in the new Journal/NBC News survey, which was conducted June 19-23.
Indeed, Mr. Johnson outpaced Mrs. Clinton among independents, 23% to 15%, in the new poll.
Those whose views on the race haven’t hardened seem open to choosing Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein. These “persuadable” voters comprised nearly three in 10 of those surveyed.
Of them, 28% leaned toward Mr. Trump and 25% toward Mrs. Clinton. Some 21% favored Mr. Johnson and 12% went for Ms. Stein.
Pollsters cautioned that voters are more apt in the summer before an election to say they will back third-party candidates. When the race heats up in the fall, they often revert to the major-party contenders.
Yet the 2016 presidential race has often defied conventional thinking. One difference between this election and past ones is the unpopularity of the two main candidates.
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