Just this week, third party presidential candidates Jill Stein (Green Party) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) have been deemed ineligible to participate in the first presidential debate on September 26th. Stein and Johnson need to have at least 15% of voters showing interest in either of them, which is called the voter threshold. This is implemented by the Commission on Presidential Debates, who creates the rules for the debates. This threshold, which could prove to be detrimental to both third party campaigns, needs to be met by not one, but seven major polling companies in order to be legitimized for debate.
Optimism is Key for Any Third Party Campaign
Although not participating in the upcoming debate will be a huge hit to both campaigns, Stein and Johnson are hopeful, as there are three more debates after the September 26th date. Although the Commission on Presidential Debates said it would re-consider threshold regulations, there has been no urgency given to the matter or no immediate action taken. Johnson has been slowly gaining traction in polls with 7.2%, and has recently been endorsed by Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Stein, on the other hand, is polling in at a mere 2.3%, slightly lower than Johnson, according to Real Clear Politics.
Third Party Candidates Could Split the Vote into a Trump or Clinton Presidency
Third party candidates might not be a viable answer this late in election season, but they can play a vital role when it comes to taking away votes from a higher profile candidate, potentially altering the outcome of the election and swaying a vote. This is called vote splitting. Due to the nature of this upcoming presidential election, many voters find both Trump and Clinton to be undesirable candidates, leaving many to believe that third party candidates would be the best bet.
Essentially, liberal third party candidate Jill Stein could potentially take votes away from Hillary, because they share similar platforms. If that is the case, then the votes that go towards Stein could push the election towards Trump, because instead of Clinton getting all the liberal voters, she could get a fraction, which could be the difference in her winning all of the electors in any given state. The same is true when comparing Trump and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, which could push the election Clinton's way. The most recent and controversial example of this is the 2000 election when Ralph Nader split Al Gore's votes, which led to George W. Bush's victory.
Why Third Parties Matter: the Growth in Voters Identifying as Independent
|Source: Pew Research Center|
A study done by Pew Research shows there is an increasing amount of voters in the younger generations (Millenials and X) who identify as Independent. This rate has been growing over the past few years, and will likely continue as views become less polarized.
To put things into perspective, if it were up to voters under the age of thirty, it would actually turn out that Johnson would be able to qualify for the upcoming debates, and Stein would be polling at about 10%, which is substantially higher than her polling now. For this upcoming election, this fact might not be too telling, but it could impact future presidential elections, as the younger generations take over as the most populous.