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Gary Johnson, the Libertarian party nominee for President, posted this image to his official Facebook page:

"60% of Americans believe a third major political party is needed"

The text of it reads:

With the insanity going on in Washington DC, is it even remotely surprising that 60% of Americans believe a third major political party is needed?
- Gary Johnson on Facebook

Is this true? Do 60% of Americans believe that a third major political party is needed? (If this was based on a poll, I'd also be interested in its methodology.)

  • 3
    It's worth noting: beware of false equivalency. It's rather self-serving for a high-ranking member of a third party to suggest that a third party is needed, afterall, as a good percentage of the people who believe the answer is yes would probably be horrified by the agenda of that specific third party. (Please note that the preceding statement remains true no matter which specific third party it is.) – Mason Wheeler Jun 30 '16 at 20:17
  • I've created a specific chat room for this. – Oddthinking Jul 3 '16 at 1:36
10

Gallup Poll (National)

Of all the polls I looked at, the one most closely matching this claim is one long-running Gallup poll: Majority in U.S. Maintain Need for Third Major Party.

Gallup poll results

The question was:

"In your view, do the Republicans and the Democratic parties do an adequate job of representing the American people, or do they do such a poor job that a third major party is needed?"

Participants could also answer "no opinion". This polling question has been asked annually since 2003.

They described their methodology:

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 9-13, 2015, on the Gallup U.S. Daily survey, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

This is consistent with other polls in Gallup's Social Series polls.

Gallup cautions:

question wording [...] can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls

Public Policy Institute of California (State)

That same question was used by the Public Policy Institute of California without any change or criticism in a 2013 survey (p. 21). Their results (specific to California) had 49% for a "third major party needed", 13% "don't know", and 37% "existing parties adequate job" (my paraphrasing).

Suffolk University / USA Today (National)

In September 2015, Suffolk University/USA Today poll asked a slightly different question:

Do the two major parties – Democrat & Republican - do a good job of representing Americans’ political views, or do you think a third party or multiple parties is necessary?

The results were:

  • Two parties: 30%
  • Third party necessary: 29%
  • Multiple parties necessary: 24%
  • Undecided: 17%
  • 5
    Is it fair to say the figure can't be trusted, because they push-polled with a false dichotomy? – Oddthinking Jun 30 '16 at 0:20
  • 1
    I can't find any source that has made that criticism. – user30557 Jun 30 '16 at 5:49
  • @Oddthinking The question is effectively "Is a third major party needed to make up for deficiencies in the other two?" I don't think there really is a false dichotomy here. Just two ways to ask the question. – fredsbend Jun 30 '16 at 7:07
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    @fredsbend: Where is the option that says 'They don't do an adequate job, but a third party isn't the solution'? Where is the option that says 'The job they do is adequate, but a third party would improve it'? Where is the option that says 'To properly represent the people, we need 7 parties'? Where is the option that says 'A single party dictatorship would be more efficient'? – Oddthinking Jun 30 '16 at 9:13
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    @Oddthinking, you have it backwards here, the claim comes from a source that asks a specific question. They didn't state the claim then set out with this wording to try and prove their claim to be correct. If the claim had come first you would be right in asking where are those other choices. But that wasn't the intent of Gallop, they just wanted to know if people wanted a third choice, not 7 or 1 something in between. – Ryan Jul 1 '16 at 17:19

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