Can a third party prevail in 2016?


Election season is in full swing now that it is post-Labor Day, and both Democrat Nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Nominee Donald Trump are experiencing similar difficulties. Both candidates have a higher unfavorability rating than their favorability rating, with over six in ten voters disliking Clinton and over six in ten voters disliking Trump.

While both major party candidates are extremely disliked and controversial figures, the third and fourth options still have a minuscule chance (if any) of winning the White House. However, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green nominee Jill Stein are polling much higher than third parties normally poll.

Both Stein and Johnson were candidates for their parties in 2012. Gary Johnson won just over one percent of the vote, and Jill Stein was just shy of a half of one percent. This year however, Gary Johnson is commonly polling in double digits in most states, and Jill Stein is doing nearly eight times better than she did in 2012.

captureSo if the two major party candidates are so disliked, then why are Americans not looking at their other options?

Firstly, political figures are tapping into people’s fears. In an interview with the Boston Herald, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said that “[Jill Stein] moves Donald Trump closer to the White House.” This kind of comment can cause undecided voters to vote for a major party because they fear the other candidate. While a vote for Jill Stein may be a take-away vote from Hillary Clinton, that is the entire point of voting for a candidate; you do not want the other candidate to get YOUR vote.

Most Americans feel that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote because a third party has not won an election in modern history. But what happened to voting based on values and principles instead of fears?

A major reason why third parties struggle to get support is because they are shut out of debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) requires a candidate to poll at fifteen percent or higher in at least five polls of their choice in order to qualify for a debate. So even if Gary Johnson are polling at fifteen percent, the CPD could choose polls in which their polling average is below that benchmark number. Additionally, pollsters only include third parties in polling forty percent of the time, and ask about third parties as a second question.

Despite the difficulty to qualify for debates based on limited polling sources, it is even more difficult for third parties to get to 15 percent with virtually no media coverage or money. The major parties are mentioned constantly, and money is never an issue.

0greenparty_arrestsIn 2012, Green Party Nominee Jill Stein was arrested for trying to enter the debate at Hofstra University. Many supporters argue that Stein’s arrest symbolizes how democracy is not quite as democratic as it seems, since not all voices can be heard.

Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have both promised that they will be at the Hofstra Debate on the 26th of September, with or without an invitation. Will this be a repeat of 2012? Or will it be the year that third parties became heard?