Third-Party Candidates Fight Uphill Battle in Presidential Election

By Cayle Suntken

The first debate out of the three planned ones of this particular election cycle will be held on September 26 at Hofstra University in Hampstead, N.Y. It is a foregone conclusion that main party candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were allowed to participate in the first debate. However, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson was not allowed in the first debate because he failed to meet the 15 percent poll average required by the Commission of Presidential Debates.


The Commission of Presidential Debates, or the CPD for short, had established a rule in 2000 that a candidate must have an average of 15 percent in order to participate in the three presidential debates. That particular precedent managed to garner widespread criticism for supposedly excluding third party candidates such as Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Darrell Castle amongst others. In 2012, three sponsors pulled out of that year’s presidential debates after the CPD excluded Johnson. Despite these setbacks, Gary Johnson continues to attract support from voters who see him as a viable alternative to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

“The electoral system, campaign finance, and voter mobilization are all working against Johnson,” Iowa State Political Science lecturer Kelly Shaw explains.  “On the other hand, Trump and Clinton each have a lot of political baggage, and neither party is too enthusiastic about their nominee.  If Johnson can raise people’s awareness, and capture their enthusiasm, he could make a serious run…but again, the deck is heavily stacked against him.”

However, Steffan Schmidt, who is a professor of Political Science at Iowa State University, is more skeptical of the notion of third parties in the national election.

“Third parties have no chance of winning,” Schmidt explains. “The system is made for the two big parties. You can’t run a national election so you have to run a 50 states plus District of Columbia campaign to try and win in enough states to get the 270 electoral votes needed to become president. An independent probably can’t win even one state.”


The aforementioned statements would probably not deter third-party voters as Gary Johnson is on the ballot in all 50 states. Other notable third-party candidates who are on the ballot in Iowa include Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Constitution Party candidate Darrell Castle, and independent candidate Evan McMullin.

“While it looks like CPD has moved slightly away from the partisan politics that created it,” Shaw continues to explain. “The fundamentals of our electoral process – which places third parties at a disadvantage – further disadvantages third party candidates who wish to join the two major parties on the debate stage.”


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