Some are calling the 2016 election “the Year of the Third Party,” and certainly they’re not wrong. This year has featured an unprecedented amount of support for third parties, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the early 1990’s. However, do these third party candidates really stand a chance in the big election?
In short, no. Unfortunately for third party candidates, it’s common knowledge that today's election system is rigged to only allow two main parties. Yet this knowledge didn’t stop 1.2 million people from casting their votes for Gary Johnson in the 2012 presidential election, a practice that caused outrage throughout the establishment. Accusations of third party voters “throwing their votes away" or “splitting the vote” to supposedly support the opposing side, grew rampant. Third partiers were even told not to vote with their conscience, and that instead, they must settle on the “lesser of two evils” for the sake of picking a viable candidate. Yet despite all this, there are those who still continue to vote third party - why?
Luke DiGiacomo, a junior at Chapel Hill and a stalwart Johnson supporter, explains, “I have a different definition of winning,” he says. “To me, scaring the two parties by ‘taking votes away’ from Trump and Clinton is winning if it leads to more support for Libertarian positions in the future."
Years ago, an ideological stance such as this would have been laughable and, in fact, some third party supporters are still mocked. However, the political arena has changed during the past few years. As demonstrated in a 2014 Gallup Poll, 58 percent of American voters report that they support the addition of a third political party. This number has continued to rise with the introduction of increasingly polarized candidates and the further splitting of the main two parties.
Frustration with the two party system is great news for anti-establishment candidates such as Gary Johnson. As a Libertarian candidate, Johnson has based his campaign on the ideals of maximum freedom and minimum government. He is fiscally conservative, known for advocating against federal welfare and reforming the tax code while also remaining socially liberal by supporting the LGBTQ community and upholding Roe v. Wade.
Perhaps it is Johnson’s stance on civil liberties that is drawing young voters to his name as he offers an alternative to social conservatism without buying into the Democratic Party. Regardless, as evidenced by an August 2016 poll by Investors Business Daily (IBD), it is Johnson's message, not Clinton’s, that is rallying the young voters to his side.
In this poll, potential voters were asked who, out of the four candidates running, they planned to support in the upcoming election. Trump came in fourth, polling at 12 percent; Stein followed at 14 percent; Clinton trailed in second at 30 percent; and finally, Johnson placed first at 35 percent.
Currently, Johnson is using this support and turning his gaze to the presidential debates. As Johnson explains, “There’s no way a third-party candidate can compete unless they’re on the debate stage”. However, the Commission on Presidential Debates has made this extremely difficult for third partiers. Third party candidates are required to poll at least 15 percent in the national polls; however, this is no easy task. In fact, Ross Perot was the only third party candidate to achieve this, polling 19 percent as an Independent in 1992.
Still, Johnson isn’t letting this daunting task stop him, and his supporters are coming through. Currently, Johnson is polling at 10 percent nationally. Furthermore, as of an August 25, 2016 poll by Quinnipiac demonstrates, 62 percent of American voters wish to see Johnson allowed in the presidential debate. Among 18-34 year olds, this number rises to a staggering 82 percent. While these numbers don’t mean much as they aren’t counted towards the required 15 percent, they further show the dissatisfaction the American public feels towards the two party system.
All in all, Johnson represents an interesting question: how far can third parties really go? Today, it seems even with a large portion of the young vote and strong support for presidential debate access, third partiers still don’t have a chance at winning it all. However, this could soon be changing. The Libertarian Party has teamed up with the Green Party in suing the Commission of Presidential Debates. They claim that such restrictions violate anti-trust acts as they clearly exist to bolster the two-party system. The outcome of this legislation could be revolutionary and completely change American politics. However, this is only possible through continued third party support. It seems that maybe voting for the future isn’t so ridiculous after all.
Lead Image Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons