“What party did you vote for? Democratic or Republican?” The questions that linger in the back of my mind as I think back to the 2016 presidential debate.
It is automatically assumed that one identifies with one of the major political parties. However, a third of the country identifies as an Independent (Paine). Yet, we still end up with either democratic or republicans in the presidential debate. “Politics has lagged our social and business evolution ..
. There are 30 brands of Pringles in our local grocery store. How is it that Americans have so much selection for potato chips and only two brands—and not very good ones—for political parties?”—?Scott Ehredt of the Centrist Alliance. We end up with two “not very good” selections because in order to gain national attention by participating in the national debates, each candidate must reach 15%, which can be a struggle for third party candidates. Third party candidates should be allowed greater participation in presidential debates and the 15% threshold should be lowered in order to help third party candidates get a chair in the debates. The struggle for third party candidates to receive 15% of support in votes is an immense issue.
In America, we know that in order to become president you have to be an active member in the presidential debates. For instance, in 2016, sixty six percent of people said that they did not know who Gary Johnson was when it came time for elections because he was not a part of the debates. The insiders that determine the participants in our debates is the organization called the Commission on Presidential Debates.
It is a private organization that originated in 1987 and is compiled by members of the Republican and Democratic parties. To many people, this may seem non partisan or subjective because the two parties may create a bias toward a certain candidate, specifically toward a republican or democratic runner (Change the Rule). Also, the polls used by the Commission of Presidential Debates are just a snapshot in time and are not the prediction of actual Election Day results (Change the Rule). The inaccurate polls mean that a third party candidate might miss out on an invitation. These facts prove that the entire system is flawed; there are many reasons why third party candidates should be allowed to participate in presidential debates, but fundamentally, the current system does not even work well.
There is specific criteria that must be surpassed for third party candidates to be chosen for debate. One must be thirty five years of age, have 15% of support in polls, be a natural-born citizen, and have enough ballots in the states to get 270 electoral votes or more (Fahrenkopf). To date, it has been nearly impossible for third party candidates to reach the 15% threshold.
This is important because debates are perhaps the most important opportunity for a candidate to reach voters. The media is where most of the American population receives its news from, and cutting out the possibility for candidates to participate in debates leaves no hope for them to win. The rules and criteria may prevent third party candidates from a realistic shot at gaining votes since the current criteria are almost impossible to attain and uses flawed data.
The position that I am taking is that third party candidates should have greater participation in presidential debates. The 15 percent polling threshold rule should be changed. For the first debate, the threshold should be five percent, then raised to ten percent for the second debate, and finally, fifteen percent for the third debate. This would be a fair way to include more perspectives in the presidential debates and make the American population happy. “Sixty-two percent of Americans do not think the federal government has the consent of the governed, and 86% feel the political system is broken and does not serve the interests of the American people” (Change the rule). If a candidate can get to five percent for the first debate, then they have a fair chance at receiving more support.
Then, if they do not get to the ten percent threshold by the time of the next debate, they cannot say they were not given a fair shot. This proposal would fix current flaws in the system, and reflect a rising desire for a third party among American populace. Third parties have not had success in America’s political system. Since the Election of 1800, America has been a two party system and only major party candidates have won a presidential election. The Commission on Presidential Debates purpose is to manage a two-party duopoly.
The CPD ended up managing presidential debates because The League of Women Voters did not want to continue sponsoring debates. They said that “because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public”(Cohen). The League of Women Voters wanting to step out is a red flag that the system is flawed and should be reevaluated. There is an abundance of evidence that prove that the 15% threshold is ineffective. The one time since 1980 that the CPD has allowed a third party candidate into a presidential debate is when they allowed a billionaire named Ross Parrot to participate because they thought his inclusion in the debates would benefit them (Cohen). His polls were still only at 7%-9% (Cohen).
This goes to show that even Ross Perot, a billionaire, struggled to fund his campaign in order to reach the 15% threshold. Getting to the 15% threshold costs $270 million dollars (change the rule). $270 million dollars is a lot of money for a third party candidate to fund. Gallup polls have uncovered that the number of Americans who identify as independents has skyrocketed in the last five years, and was actually at 42% in 2015 (Cohen). In the meantime, the percentage of Americans who call themselves a democrat or republican decreased tremendously. Currently, in the history of Gallup polling for party membership, the two major parties are at an all time low. In 2016, Democrats had their poll results at 29% and republicans are near their low point at 26 percent (Cohen).
In 2016, the two major parties nominated people who the public deemed unfavorable. In the latest Real Clear Politics polling average, Clinton was at 53 perfect unfavorable, and her opponent Trump was off the charts with a ruling of 61 perfect unfavorable (Cohen). Popular television networks have responded to the dissatisfaction with the major party candidates and have begun to include other candidates. For instance, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on August 3, 2016 had Gary Johnson at 10 percent and Jill Stein at 5 percent.
CNN reported Johnson polling votes at 9 percent, and Stein’s polling votes were at 5 percent (Cohen). Since much of America identifies with the independent party, it only makes sense to have third party candidates participating in debates. Also, 81% of Americans agree that it is important to have independents running for office (Change the rule). In another poll, 62% say they would have voted for an independent party in the 2016 election (change the rule). Therefore, we should include third party candidates in debates. The other side of the issue argues that third party candidates should not be granted greater participation in debate for various reasons. Some assert that the 15% threshold is a reasonable cut off point because of the debate timeline. Since the cutoff is seven weeks before the election, citizens want to focus on the two candidates that have a greater chance at winning instead of juggling three candidates.
In addition, it can seem impractical to have every candidate onstage at once. The result of this could lead to confusion and too many voices would lead to less airtime for candidates and would defeat the purpose of having a debate if each candidate only got a few minutes. There must be some way to separate the candidates who have a more serious shot at winning. If a party does not have 15% of the votes seven weeks before the election, then the remaining time should be spent on focusing on the people with a higher chance of winning (USA today). These points are used to argue we need a high threshold to allow only serious candidates into the debate.
The 15% cut off point is said to be a needed standard. Commision on Presidential Debates co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf stated that the 15% rule was put in place in 2000. He says that the current criteria participation in the debates is justifiable because the law says that there must be an objective standard.
Besides even if a policy change was made, voting habits would still result in the same outcome. One popular belief is that voting for an independent party is like throwing your vote away in the trash. However, Johnson stated that “A wasted vote is voting for somebody you don’t believe in, that’s a wasted vote.” (Siddiqui). He says to “vote for the person you believe in – that’s how you bring about change (Siddiqui).
The popular belief of people believing that their vote is being thrown away than it would prevent any policy changes from debate from having an impact. The points made to argue against third parties having greater participation make sense. However, it is possible to update the system to still satisfy those needs and yet respect the changing needs of the American populace. This does not mean adding fifteen different candidates, but to include third party candidates and retorting to the different percent thresholds for the first three debates and increasing each time makes for a clear middle ground. Suggested courses of action include inviting presidential candidates who are on enough state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning, if they either “register at 5 percent in national public opinion polls OR register a majority in national public opinion polls asking eligible voters which candidates they would like to see included in the presidential debates” (Cohen). Simply including third party candidates would make for stronger debates and make American politics more well rounded.
Debates are vital and affect the election process greatly. The American people want to be personally engaged with the president. The debates give people context that allows them to know who candidates are(McCurry). There are many possible solutions for this issue. One solution may be to push more fusion voting.
Fusion voting is where a minor party agrees to cross-endorse a major party candidate, and in return they will receive influence on the candidate’s platform(forbes). Fusion voting has been implemented in New York for some time but has also recently been adopted in Oregon (forbes). The most prominent benefit that fusion voting brings is that it forces major party candidates to win over third party nominations and implement some of their values.(forbes) Nonetheless, fusion voting opens the door for interesting alliances and presents voters with valuable information.(Forbes). Fusion voting can also help fringe voters to feel that they have a say. (fusion voting) Implementing fusion voting can be one easy solution for giving third parties more participation without changing the constitution. Another suggestion would be to either change the makeup of the members of Commission of Presidential Debates and include independent representatives, or to remove the CPD’s 15% threshold and to include a fair-rule such as a ballot access signature competition.
The competition would be held on April 30th. It would consist of any candidate that has ballot access in states and receives 270 electoral college votes or more. They would then automatically be included in debate.(Change the Rule).
If there is more than one winner, the one with the most votes would win. Having it on April 30th would yield for enough time for the independent nominee to campaign in order to boost recognition so that they would be on equal playing field with the republic or democratic nominee.