If Aleppo Gaffe Sinks Johnson, Will Trump or Clinton Gain?

If Aleppo Gaffe Sinks Johnson, Will Trump or Clinton Gain?
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“What is Aleppo?”

That was Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s response when he was asked Thursday about the major Syrian city – and epicenter of that nation’s long-raging civil war -- on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Johnson continued to fumble this relatively predictable foreign policy question, turning an opportunity to get positive media attention into a potentially costly gaffe.

It’s impossible to know just yet if this misstep will hurt Johnson in the polls. Voters who are just tuning in to the election might see it and decide he isn’t a serious candidate. Or his gap in foreign policy knowledge could be overshadowed by the cacophony of the rest of the political news cycle and fail to make a dent in his modest numbers. But either way, it’s worth asking whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would gain more if Johnson were to implode as a result or even just slowly fade.

The RealClearPolitics polling averages suggest that Johnson may be taking slightly more of his support from Clinton than Trump. In the two-way-race average of national polls (no third parties included) Clinton leads Trump by 2.8 percentage points. But when Johnson is included, her lead drops to 2.1 points. Clinton also leads Trump by 2.1 points when Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are included.  

The cross-tabs of some recent polls suggest Johnson is taking support from both candidates. For example, a recent YouGov survey shows that 9 percent of self-identified Republicans support the former New Mexico governor. Trump may now want to target those voters. The poll also shows that 18 percent of registered voters under age 30 favor Johnson. Young voters are often more ideologically liberal than older ones, which might make them a target for the Clinton campaign.

Data from a GW Battleground poll reinforces the idea that Johnson may be taking more support from Clinton than Trump. The survey asked Johnson supporters which candidate they would vote for if they, for some reason, could not vote for Johnson. Thirty-four percent said they would vote for Clinton and 26 percent said they would vote for Trump.

Again, it’s impossible to know what effect, if any, Johnson’s Aleppo flap will have. But Clinton would likely benefit more overall from a wholesale collapse in his support, and Trump would benefit somewhat by grabbing his more conservative supporters. 

David Byler is an elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at dbyler@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @davidbylerRCP.

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