During his appearance, he promised to balance the federal budget by cutting government spending almost in half if elected, to eliminate the IRS in favor of a national sales tax, to allow gay marriage and to end marijuana prohibition.
He likened his positions to those of Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican congressman from Texas, who has also appeared on Reddit.
While some praised Johnson’s positions, he also drew criticism from those who found his libertarian ideology problematic. Users questioned the privatization of the New Mexico prison system during his time as governor, which some feared might create a fiscal incentive for private prison owners to attempt to increase the number of inmates in their facilities. Health care and education were major issues as well.
“I believe the only way we reform education in this country is to bring competition into public education,” Johnson said in response to a question about his stance on privatizing schools. Critics countered that this would reduce funding available to schools, as well as accountability for educational performance, and that his general standpoint in opposition to many government programs was too extreme.
“It’s sad that a small, limited government following its constitution is considered extreme,” Bergeron said in response to such critics.
Despite mixed feedback, Bergeron and Libertarians at Virginia Tech were excited for the opportunity the Reddit appearance offered their candidate, and thought it especially beneficial for a third-party contender like Johnson.
“It allows a less-known political philosophy to become mainstream,” Bergeron said. “The greater presence that Johnson has online is definitely going to show in the polls.”
The event came at a moment in his campaign when polls are especially critical. In spite of grassroots efforts to promote the former governor’s campaign, his numbers remain in the single-digits, well behind President Obama and Mitt Romney.
Low polling numbers currently prevent Johnson from participating in the upcoming presidential debates, and the ability to take part in the nationally televised events could make or break his campaign. The first debate is scheduled for next Wednesday.
“We have been excluded and we have filed a law suit,” Johnson said when asked on Reddit if he would appear in debates with Obama and Romney. The campaign believes that policies established by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the organization that organizes the debates, are unfairly omitting their candidate.
Johnson meets the requirements for participation established by the Commission, except for its polling threshold. The Commission requires that a candidate be eligible to hold the office of president, have achieved sufficient ballot access to attain an electoral majority, and have support at or above 15 percent, according to polls selected by the organization.
Although he does meet the other requirements, he is only polling around 6 percent, according to Bergeron. Some suggest several polls used by the Commission do not list Johnson, who is currently on the ballot in 47 states, as an option. Pending the outcome of the lawsuit, he must break the 15 percent mark to be allowed to participate.
Bergerson was hopeful that his candidate would be allowed to participate and felt that Reddit was especially useful for Johnson to boost his polling numbers and national recognition, as his campaign is struggling to receive mainstream media coverage.
“If we’re able to get our message out and increase visibility through things like AMAs and social media, then people will support him more,” Bergerson said. “I believe that he will be able to get into the debates if we keep pushing the way we’re pushing right now.”
Johnson’s post received more than 500 comments within the first 15 minutes, and was the twelfth most popular page on the site.
By the time the former governor fielded his last question, it had risen to the fourth most popular position and had received well over a thousand responses. It was the former governor’s third appearance on the site.
On campus, reaction to the event was mixed, though many agreed that Reddit is becoming more mainstream and, along with other social media, represents an important source for information and potential tool for political candidates.
Carl Capindo, a freshman engineering major, found himself on Reddit searching for memes and has now been an avid Redditor for almost a year.
He recently participated in a meet-up organized by Virginia Tech’s subreddit, r/VirginiaTech.
The group is not officially affiliated with the university, but Capindo said he found information presented by members helpful in adjusting to life at Tech and selecting classes. He also uses the site for news and politics.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I get like half of my news from Reddit,” Capindo said, laughing about his obsession with the site. He says he checks Reddit multiple times a day.
While he did not plan to participate in Johnson’s AMA, he did say that things he learned on the site could factor into his political decision-making.
“I found out about a good amount of candidates from there myself that I probably wouldn’t have heard about on mainstream news,” he said.