Donald Trump had a good night last night. If web traffic is anything to go by, so did the Libertarian Party.
Google searches for the “Libertarian Party” surged last night following the exit of Senator Ted Cruz from the Republican race after his decisive loss to Trump in the Indiana primary.
This was matched by searches for Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and the party’s candidate in 2012. Johnson is once again seeking the party’s nomination in 2016, although he must first overcome challenges from software entrepreneur John McAfee and Libertarian Republic founder Austin Petersen.
Interest in Johnson also surged on Reddit, where a post from a user “terrified of a Trump-Clinton choice” went viral. The user urged other Redditors to “submit and upvote information about Gary Johnson like crazy.” Reddit users obliged, giving the post enough votes to reach the site’s widely-read front page.
The post was originally submitted to the /r/libertarian subreddit, where submissions rarely, if ever, garner enough attention to move so far up the rankings.
Both Johnson and his leadership rival, Petersen, were quick to welcome disaffected Republicans on Twitter.
— Gov. Gary Johnson (@GovGaryJohnson) May 4, 2016
— Austin Petersen (@AP4LP) May 4, 2016
Polling figures suggest that 2016 will be a good year for third parties like the Libertarians. With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton increasingly certain to win their respective nomination battles, third parties will be competing against two candidates who share historically low favourability ratings. Approximately 60 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, while 54 percent share the same view of Clinton.
With Trump’s ratings stable, and Clinton’s favorability in rapid decline, third parties will be competing against the most unpopular field of candidates in modern times. Although it’s difficult to calculate Libertarian support among the electorate (pollsters rarely include them in their choices), a recent poll from Monmouth University put Gov. Johnson at 11 percent in a hypothetical three-horse race against Clinton and Trump. That would be a historic high for the Libertarian Party, which only gained 1 percent of the vote at the last election.
Nevertheless, Libertarian candidates face a significant name-recognition problem. Three-quarters of respondents to Monmouth’s poll said they didn’t know enough about Johnson to form an opinion of him. If the Libertarians want to take advantage of voters’ distrust of Trump and Clinton, they’ll have to find a way to get their name out.