Column: No debate for third-parties without significant reforms

Practical Idealism: Seeking a balance between what can be done and what should be done in the political landscape today

Tyler McGinty

Tyler McGinty

Tyler McGinty, News Editor

I’m going to say something that I’m sure is going to make a lot of people upset, including me: third-party candidates do not belong in the presidential debates. Keep in mind, I’m making this statement as someone who would vote for Ralph Nader in a second if he ran again.

However, putting third-party candidates in the national debates elevates them to a level that they simply are not at yet. The only candidate that seems to have a chance is Gary Johnson, and the latest polls from Rasmussen and Reuters don’t even put him at 10 percent (the legal requirement to get into the national debates).

With our current system, 10 percent is far too low to make a significant impact. Unless all 10 percent of the people that support Johnson are concentrated in multiple states, he would still have no chance of winning.

For reference, California is approximately 10 percent of the country’s population. If every single Gary Johnson supporter lived in California, he’d get 55 electoral votes; still a far cry from the 270 needed to win.

I know that’s a ludicrous scenario and there are better situations in a hypothetical electoral map for Johnson, but the reality is that 10 percent is basically nothing in our system. That kind of support is drowned out in the winner-take-all Electoral College we have now. No one is really going to care if Johnson takes 10 percent of Ohio, all the votes go to someone else anyway. It might get a passing mention on the air, or possibly a footnote in the paper the next day, but the only thing anyone will remember is who actually won Ohio. Without some sort of sweeping change to the way we actually elect our president, third-party candidates will continue to be on the outside looking in.

There is a certain trouble with this view, of course. If people like Johnson or Jill Stein aren’t allowed in the debates, how can they showcase their views and get people on board to vote for them? That seems reasonable, right?

But if we let them into the debates, all they would do is take away from the votes of the candidates that are likely to win, and that’s where our focus truly needs to be. Undecided voters need to take a look at Hillary and Trump and figure out which one to cast their ballot for.

Third-party candidates spend most of their time preaching to the choir. By and large, they aren’t attracting anyone to their ideals. At best they’re attracting their own fringe groups away from the major party that they’re associated with. I remember watching Bill Maher get down on his knees and beg Ralph Nader not to run, because it would fracture the left.

That’s what will always bring third-party candidates down. That, and when it comes right down to it, there isn’t that much difference in the eyes of the American people between Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and Andrew D. Basiago (who believes he is a time traveler and that the majestic Sasquatch should be listed in the Endangered Species Act). To the American public, they’re all just third-party nutjobs.

Let’s be real here: in this election, where Trump and Hillary get as much criticism from their own parties as they do from their opponents, the fact that someone like Johnson is only getting 10 percent is laughable. It either shows that’s all the support he’s ever going to get, or that people know our system can’t elect a third-party without a massive change.

The only way to give these candidates a chance is a switch to a preferential ballot system, where voters get to rank candidates by preference. This way people get to vote with their true ideals, without worrying about wasting a vote.