As Nov. 6 approaches, students at the College continue to discuss whether President Barack Obama or Gov. Mitt Romney should win the election. While most Republicans voice their support of Romney and Democrats stand behind Obama, it is still unclear as to which candidate independents support. With the introduction of Libertarian presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson and his vice presidential running mate Jim Gray, the idea of a third party presidency fosters interest among independents.
At the Bully Pulpit Series presenting Judge Jim Gray on Oct. 20, the Libertarian vice presidential candidate told students and members of the community he represented the third choice. Gray quoted Thomas Jefferson, “Every generation needs a new revolution.” He said the United States was in need of a political revolution that garnered a third party system, as opposed to only two strong parties.
“We today have an obese national government. It’s out of control,” Gray said. “This revolution now is here with Gov. Johnson and Judge Gray. You can elect Romney, you can elect Obama, but they’re still going to be at each other’s throats.”
Name Recognition and Federal Matching Funds
With less than three weeks until Election Day, poll results continue to show the dominance of the two old parties, not just in the number of Americans saying who they will vote for, but even the number of people knowing the names of the third party candidates. In a Pew Research Center poll conducted on Sept. 19, researchers asked respondents if they had ever heard of three particular third party presidential candidates. Results showed that 26 percent heard of Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party), 18 percent for Jill Stein (Green Party) and 9 percent for Virgil Goode (Constitution Party).
Gray attributed the lack of name recognition of third party candidates to the strict requirements for participating in televised debates and for receiving federal matching funds. In order to qualify for grants in federal matching funds, a party must have 5 percent of the vote. The Libertarian Party has never come close to the 5 percent threshold. The only third party nominating convention to have ever received public funds was the Reform Party in 2000. Without sufficient funding, third parties have historically struggled to get their name out.
In a presidential roundtable event hosted by the Department of Political Science on Oct. 18, David Gillespie, who teaches Third Parties in American Politics at the College, said third parties have always struggled in competing with the two major parties. “Believe me, it’s not an easy task. The duopoly in the United States has closed the door on anyone besides the Democrats or Republicans,” Gillespie said at the event. “Third parties matter. Third parties are closed out in so many ways though.”
Exclusion from the Televised Debates
Gillespie, in addition to Gray, said if third parties were able to meet requirements to participate in the televised debates, they would have a better chance at winning elections. However, third parties continue to struggle in meeting the 15 percent support requirement in national polls determined by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) in 2000. Ralph Nader, a third party presidential candidate who was affected by the rule, said the CPD created the requirement in order to keep third party candidates off televised debates. However, the lawsuit he brought up in a federal court failed when the court would not overrule the Federal Election Campaign’s determinations that said third party challengers failed to provide “evidence that the CPD is controlled by the DNC or the RNC.”
Gray said the only way for a third party to win the presidential election is being able to participate in the televised debates and receiving federal matching funds. While he said he recognizes the unlikelihood of winning this year’s election, he said Johnson and he are committed to running again in 2016. However, the only way they will win is if they are able to compete fairly with the two major parties. Gray said this will only be done through court action. He said, “This is a rigged situation for their benefit, not the peoples.”
The Independent Vote
Gray and Johnson are not the only individuals unsatisfied with the current political system. At the Bully Pulpit Series event on Oct. 20, students and members of the community voiced their concerns in regard to picking the “lesser of two evils.”
Christian Fowler, a student at the College, attended the event and said he supported the third choice: Johnson and Gray. “I like the fact that he’s honest and has good ideas,” Fowler said. “He doesn’t bullsh-t you political talk.”
According to the same Sept. 19 Pew Research Center poll, independent voters are more likely to vote for a minor party presidential candidate than Democrats or Republicans. Results showed that “registered or self-identified Democrats plan to vote 89% for Obama, 10% for Romney, and 1% volunteered ‘someone else’ or undecided. Registered or self-identified Republicans plan to vote 6% for Obama, 91% for Romney, and 3% other. But independents plan to vote 44% for Obama, 42% for Romney, and 14% other.”
In a recent Gallup poll, Americans were asked if they supported the idea that a third major party is needed in American politics. Results showed 46 percent in support of the idea. Like the Pew Research Center poll, those in favor of the idea were mainly independents.
While Gray said he recognizes that a Libertarian candidate winning the election at this point in the race is slim, he said he sees a possible future for third party candidates. However, in addition to changing standards set out by the CPD, this cannot be done without support from Americans. “You’ve got to care,” Gray said. “Young people need to stand up.”