If third-party candidates were regularly mentioned in news reports alongside major party nominees like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Americans would be better informed about their choices -- and third-party candidates would become more viable, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson said.
"Right now, the issue is that all of the polling asks about Trump and Clinton, and then 99 percent of the media reports only that top line," Johnson told CNBC. "I think if we were included in the top line, as Johnson/Trump/Clinton, we'd be at 20 percent."
"A lot of that has to do with how polarizing the two of them are," Johnson added, acknowledging the unique elements of the 2016 race. "But that's the issue right now. We need to be top line on the polls."
Johnson is a former Republican and two-term governor of New Mexico who was praised for his financial management of the state, leaving office with a budget surplus and a government workforce trimmed by more than 1,200 employees. He earned the admiration of Democrats and Republicans for his leadership style, with the Los Alamos Monitor calling him "arguably the most popular governor of the decade."
Johnson left office after two terms because New Mexico law does not allow gubernatorial candidates to run for a third term.
While Johnson enjoys support in some circles for positions like slashing the federal budget and advocating the legalization of marijuana, he's rarely mentioned in print and cable news analysis of the election. The amount of attention the media pays Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein is miniscule compared to the millions of mentions the major party candidates benefit from, Johnson argued.
Despite that significant disadvantage, Johnson has the support of more than 8 percent of American voters, according to the Real Clear Politics aggregate of national polls. Stein, who has reached out to disaffected former supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, polls at about 3 percent in the Real Clear Politics aggregate.
Johnson's numbers are much better than the 1 percent of the vote he earned as a candidate in the 2012 election, but still fall significantly short of the 15 percent support needed to claim a place alongside Clinton and Trump in the nationally televised debates.
The last time there was a three-candidate debate was in 1992, when Texas businessman Ross Perot campaigned as an independent, the Wall Street Journal notes. Perot capitalized on dissatisfaction with Washington and the two major political parties, eventually winning 19 percent of the popular vote as Democrat Bill Clinton defeated incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush.
In an interview with MSNBC Johnson touted his social media engagement and the #LetGaryDebate hashtag, which has been trending on Twitter. Americans, he argued, largely agree with central issues of his campaign, including opposition to American military interventions, a push for smaller government, lower taxes, and greater personal freedom.
"What we're saying is representative of [the views of] about 60 percent of Americans," Johnson said. "It's just that they're not hearing that message."