Third parties were in the news this week. The Commission on Presidential Debates, the non-partisan group that makes sure the candidates debate one another, ruled that the third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein cannot compete in the first debate. The first debate is on September 26, 2016 at Hofstra University in New York.
The Commission will allow third parties to compete only if they are legally eligible to be president, are on enough state ballots to win the election, and have at least 15 percent support in five polls. Johnson and Stein met the first two requirements but not the third. The Commission calculated that Johnson was polling at an average of 8.4 percent, while Stein was polling at 3.2 percent. While their campaigns did not have much of a chance, this decision really hurt them. But they can still participate in the final two presidential debates if their support increases in the coming weeks.
Johnson is actually doing well for a third party candidate in an American presidential election. He is running as the candidate for the Libertarian Party. He is the first third party candidate since 1996, when H. Ross Perot mounted a successful independent bid, to be on the ballot in all fifty states plus Washington, D.C.
Stein is running as the candidate for the Green Party. While she is not doing as well as Johnson, she, as well as Johnson, may impact the outcome of the election in states where the vote will be close. In the 2000 election, for example, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader won 97,421 votes in Florida, the state that decided the election. George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by only 537 votes.
The most successful third party candidate in recent history was H. Ross Perot. While he ran and did well in 1996, he also ran in 1992 and won 19 percent of the popular vote. Perot probably could have done even better if he hadn't dropped out of the race and then got back in late in the game. Perot, however, did not get any Electoral College votes. Also, Perot was polling well enough that the Commission allowed him to participate in all three presidential debates!
This week, let's take a closer look at third parties.
Explore the websites for Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) and Jill Stein (Green Party). What are the candidates' backgrounds, and how did they get into politics? Who are their vice presidential nominees?
What issues are important to the third party candidates? How do they differ from the Democratic and Republican candidates? Younger students can then write a few sentences on each question. More advanced students can write a compare and contrast essay of about 500 words in length.
Watch the town hall debate in 1992 between President George H.W. Bush, Governor Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. How did the candidates differ from one another?
Watch this Perot infomercial from 1992. Based on what you saw, why did so many Americans like Perot?
Questions for Debate:
Is it fair that Johnson and Stein are being excluded from the first debate in the 2016 campaign?
Should third parties be allowed to compete in the presidential debates, no matter how well they are polling?
What criteria should third party candidates have to meet to be allowed to compete in the presidential debates?
How well do you think the third party candidates will do this year? Do you think they will impact the outcome of the election?
Would you vote for one of the third party candidates in 2016? Why or why not?