Gary Johnson could catch presidential race by surprise

With his name slated to be on every state ballot in the country in November, Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is an important voice – bringing bold new ideas to the table that appeal to voters across the political spectrum.

Johnson, a Republican who served as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, is running on a platform that includes slashing government spending to balance the federal budget by 2013, ending wars the U.S. in involved in, and drug reform —  beginning with the legalization of marijuana but extending all the way to the war on drugs, drug policy, relations with Latin America, and even law enforcement policies and priorities– issues that neither of the two major candidates President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are pursuing right now.

Having received the Libertarian nomination in Las Vegas last weekend, Johnson must now cross a new threshold to ensure that his voice is heard and give these important initiatives a lot of exposure — achieving the 15 percent required by the Commission on Presidential Debates to participate.

To date, Johnson has been polling between 6 and 9 percent nationally – several points shy of what he needs.

If the two parties continue to move to the extreme left and right, and if our economic situation continues to remain bleak, it is conceivable that a fresh face emerging would find a degree of responsiveness in a political environment that is as hostile as I have ever seen.

Last weekend, voters in Greece rejected both major political parties amid a dire fiscal situation there, while a disenchanted French electorate voted out President Nicolas Sarkozy. The European elections speak to a major anti incumbency trend that  is likely to have profound implications for the 2012 presidential election.

Voters across the board are unsatisfied with the current political system. Most people think that neither party is effective at solving the country’s problems, congressional ratings are at an all-time low, and support for both the Democratic and Republican parties is on the decline.

Amid this toxic political climate, a  recent poll put out by Harvard’s Institute of Politics suggests Libertarian ideas are gaining traction with those age 18 to 29. Moreover, polling conducted by my firm, Douglas E. Schoen LLC, has found that there is a great deal of support for a third-party alternative to the current two-party system, and voters are receptive to voting for alternatives to the Democratic and Republican Presidential tickets in 2012.

With neither Obama nor Romney offering an overarching message that has been able to resonate with an electorate that is becoming increasingly cynical about anyone’s ability to fix this country’s ongoing, trenchant and most vexatious problems – Gary Johnson’s voice is one that needs to be heard.

Bottom line: At time of massive dissatisfaction with our political system, we need to expand rather than narrow the debate.