Is 2016 the Year of the Third Party?

Not since Abraham Lincoln has the United States elected a third-party candidate.  Is it possible that 2016 will overturn the two-party’s 155-year legacy?

Short answer – no.  If you’re easily bored, you can stop reading now.

2016 may go in the history books as the most divisive political election.  People are saying the Democratic & Republican candidates are equally awful.

So, why am I so convinced we won’t swear in a third-party candidate in January 2017?

How America’s System Favors Republican & Democratic Candidates

Republican & Democratic candidates are on the ballot in all 50 states once they receive their respective party’s nomination.  Third-party candidates must petition every state to either be on the ballot or be a write-in candidate.

There’s also the media coverage disadvantages third-party candidates face.

This year’s televised national debates had record viewer numbers.  However, only Republican & Democratic candidates appeared & shared their policy plans (or insulted one another, depending on who was talking).  This was key to getting the candidates’ views out.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a nonpartisan (so they claim), nonprofit organization, sets the debate stage rules.  To appear, candidates must meet this criterion to show they have a chance of winning & public support:

  • Constitutional eligibility
  • Appearing on enough ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning
  • Polling at 15% in five national polls the CPD picks for their reputation & methodology

Two third-party candidates – Dr. Jill Stein & Mr. Gary Johnson, specifically – petitioned the CPD to let them debate the major party candidates.  However, neither candidate was polling at or above 15%, & the CPD refused to let them.

Major party candidates spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in advertising beyond the debates.  However, third-party candidates usually fund their own campaigns or get small sums from individuals, so they don’t have the same spending power.

The media is also less likely to invite them to panels & interviews.  So, they have to make every dollar & appearance count.  A single mistake could be all voters remember about a third-party candidate.  Many people know about Mr. Johnson’s on-air “Aleppo” flub, but they would be hard-pressed to name his take on important issues.

Why Third-Party Candidates Can’t Buck the Trend

Originally, I researched Dr. Jill Stein & Mr. Gary Johnson extensively for this post.  I wrote up a draft with their CVs, their political experience, & their faults.  I avoided their takes on the issues because my opinion on a candidate’s political views wouldn’t match someone else’s.

Then, as my research progressed, I realized I couldn’t discuss the third-party candidates in a single post.  I could write for years & not address every single third-party candidate – there are just too many.

In 2016, three third-party candidates are on the ballot in 20 or more states.  Five third-party candidates are on the ballot in fewer than 20 states.  Twenty-one third-party candidates are on the ballot in fewer than five states.  Five hundred & forty third-party candidates are write-in candidates!

But, we’re familiar with two, maybe three, third-party candidates at best.  The sheer number of third-parties (50+) makes it difficult for any one third-party candidate to gain traction in the general election.

Third-Party Path to Presidency

Federal & state governments make election rules.  Because most of those government representatives are either Republicans or Democrats, the laws favor those parties.

Third-parties would serve their efforts better by building up state & federal representation.  There, they could help craft laws that support their candidates.  They could also expose voters to issues they hold dear, make real changes for the people, & strengthen their party.

Instead, they tend to aim for the presidency before they build a third-party political resume.  Dr. Jill Stein has run – but lost – several Massachusetts elections as a Green Party candidate.  Mr. Gary Johnson served as a Governor of New Mexico as a Republican before running for the presidency as a Libertarian.

The other 567 candidates, I can’t speak to.  I doubt any one person can.


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