The two party system acts to restrict political discourse so only the very limited differences between the major parties are discussed during the campaign. This is particularly undesirable this year when both candidates are from the authoritarian right quadrant of the political spectrum. As I discussed yesterday, regardless of whether Clinton or Trump wins, we will see a continuation of the horrors of the Bush administration. We will see a strengthening of the warfare and surveillance state, increased restrictions on First Amendment rights, and increased government secrecy. The two candidates with alternative viewpoints, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, have now been officially declared ineligible for the first presidential debate.
Theoretically they can still qualify for subsequent debates, but it will be even harder after they are denied the free publicity provided to the major party candidates in the first debate.
The rules which determine who qualifies are arbitrary rules which were written to limit access to the debates. Doug Mataconis described how the Commission on Presidential Debates is not truly “bipartisan” but is an organization jointly run by the two major parties:
…the commission is an organization controlled equally by the Republican and Democratic parties. Its two co-Chairman are Frank Farenkopf, a top Republican who once served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Mike McCurry, a top Democratic Party alumnus who once served as Press Secretary for former President Bill Clinton. The Board Of Directors includes top GOP officials such as former Senators John Danforth and Alan Simpson and top Democrats such as Caroline Kennedy and Kennedy ally and former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Newton Minor.
Doug also made a strong argument as to why Johnson should be included in the debates:
The Libertarian ticket has officially qualified for the ballot in all fifty states, an accomplishment that isn’t exactly easy for non-establishment political parties. The ticket is also polling better far better than any Libertarian nominee ever has, hitting an average of 9,2% according to RealClearPolitics and according to Pollster. Among younger voters, the Johnson/Weld ticket has been consistently polling competitively, with a new Quinnipiac poll showing them just two points behind Clinton/Kaine among voters aged 18 to 34. The two former Governors have also picked up endorsements from newspapers such as the traditionally Republican Richmond Times Dispatch, the Winston-Salem Journal, and, just dropping overnight, the New Hampshire Union-Leader.
While Stein has not achieved this level of success, she does present yet a different viewpoint, and is already polling better than Ralph Nader’s results in 2000. Either candidate could have even more of an impact if more people heard their views.
Hillary Clinton has a strong interest in limiting the expression of alternative viewpoints as she is already losing support to third party candidates, especially among younger voters. The Atlantic points out:
In the last day, two major polls have found that more than one-third of voters under the age of 30 plan to vote for either Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein instead of either Clinton or Trump in November.
A defection by millennials of that size could be devastating for Clinton; in 2012, President Obama won 60 percent of voters under the age of 30, and the bloc provided a crucial advantage in his four-point victory over Mitt Romney. In a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday, Clinton earned support from just 31 percent of voters under the age of 35 in a four-way race. It’s not like millennials are suddenly flocking to Trump. They plainly loathe him. Three in five have a “strongly unfavorable” view of him, three in four say he would divide rather than unite the country, and four in five millennials say Trump is not a candidate they can relate to. So yes, younger voters clearly prefer Clinton to Trump, but what they really want is someone else. Clinton carries that bloc by more than 20 points in a head-to-head matchup, but her support peels away when younger voters are given the option of supporting Johnson or Stein.
So, Clinton is having difficulties because many young voters don’t want to vote for her and will vote for third party candidates or stay home. If only the Democrats could have nominated a candidate who excited young voters…
We know they had that option with Bernie Sanders–who also has polled better than Clinton against Donald Trump. Young voters are more willing to consider alternatives, not having a strong connection to either major party–and often seeing both as rotten. On the other hand, the Democratic Party might have gained the loyalty of younger voters for years to come if they had nominated Sanders.
The conventional wisdom was that Stein would take votes from Clinton and Johnson would take votes from Trump. This has turned out to not be the case, with Johnson running to the left of Clinton on foreign policy, social issues, civil liberties, and drug policy. As a consequence of Clinton’s conservative views in these areas, Johnson is taking votes from her along with Trump. Politico reports:
She leads by five points among likely voters in a two-way national race, 48 percent to 43 percent. But when Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein are included, Clinton’s lead shrinks to two: she’s at 41 points, with Trump at 39, Johnson at 13, and Stein at 4. Democrats assume that all of Stein’s support comes from the Clinton column, meaning Johnson’s is split roughly evenly between Clinton and Trump.
John Fund has also analyzed the effect of third party candidates in recent polls:
In the New York Times/CBS News poll released Thursday this week, Trump and Clinton are tied at 42 percent each among likely voters. Johnson captures 8 percent of the vote and Stein 4 percent. But among voters younger than 30, Clinton has 48 percent, Trump 29 percent, and 21 percent plan to vote for Johnson or Stein or not vote at all. That level of non-support for the Democratic candidate among young people is a warning signal for Clinton. By comparison, Barack Obama won 60 percent of their votes in 2012.
Some polls show Johnson doing far better with young voters than he does in the NYT/CBS poll. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday showed that among Millennials, Hillary is winning 31 percent, 29 percent favor Johnson, 26 percent pick Trump, and 15 percent choose Stein…
The strength that Johnson shows in Western states is also impressive, and it confirms that his presence in the race is more harmful to Hillary than to Trump. Earlier this month, the Washington Post conducted in-depth individual polls in all 50 states. Their polls were revealing in contested Western states. In a two-way contest, Hillary leads in Arizona by one point, in Colorado by two points, and in Nevada by five points. In a four-way race that includes Johnson and Stein, Trump leads by two points in Arizona, ties in Colorado, and is down three points in Nevada. Even New Mexico, Johnson’s home state, is much more competitive in a four-way race: Hillary leads by 14 in a two-way race and only eight in a four-way race.
When this many young voters are thinking of voting for a third party, this can no longer be called just a spoiler or protest vote. It is a vote towards attempting a long term change in the system–which is necessary when both major parties have nominated candidates which are unfit to be president.