Should Third Party Candidates be Allowed in the Debates?

Gary: Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Jill: Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore Wikimedia

Matthew Lee
Staff Writer

During this current election season, the country is clearly unhappy with both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. With both candidates’ disapproval ratings reaching record highs and trustworthy ratings reaching record lows, it is safe to say that many Americans aren’t happy with the choices that have been presented. However, what few realize is that the election includes more candidates than Clinton and Trump.

The third-party candidates that have garnered the most support are Jill Stein from the Green Party and Gary Johnson from the Libertarian party. Jill Stein is leading a campaign against harmful emissions and abuse from big corporations. Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, believes in a small government that would not intrude on the individual rights of citizens nor tax them anywhere close to current levels.

In order to be allowed into the major televised presidential debates, the third-party candidates need 15 percent of supporters in polls, while Johnson stands at  eight percent and Stein remains at three percent. With many Americans tired of listening to the same narrative, we must ask if one or both of these third-party candidates should be included in the presidential debates?

The presidential race will realize many positive effects for this year’s election if the third party candidates are in the debates. First of all, because of the widespread disdain for the major candidates, newcomers entering into the presidential debates will encourage people to widen their perspectives instead of being limited to Republican and Democratic views. Because third party candidates usually bring attention to overlooked issues and ideologies, even their presence at these debates spreads awareness of those said issues.

For the third party candidates, entrance into the highly-televised debates means a new opportunity, as they’re essentially provided the country’s largest megaphone as well as an eager and attentive audience waiting to hear what they have to say. If Johnson or Stein manage to pull through and join any of the debates, it would definitely be a game-changer for the election and possibly turn the tide in anyone’s favor.

Of course, there are some possible consequences that must be taken into consideration. The biggest impact third party candidates can make is shifting an election one way or another in favor of the Republican or Democratic parties. For example, Gary Johnson is a former Republican and is most likely to draw support from people who would otherwise vote Republican. If Johnson enters the debates, he may inadvertently cause a Clinton victory, a prospect Republicans clearly do not desire.

Another problem with the third party candidates entering the debates is that if the 15 percent vote rule is set aside for this election, it sets the precedent for future elections, bringing all types of candidates into the debates. Additionally, as the candidates influence local, county and state positions, too many differing parties in government can easily cripple the ability to make and administer laws due to their multiple conflicting views toward certain issues. Although many people attack the two-party system, the two-party system has improved productivity and lawmaking in the government because it simplifies processes and creates distinct yet clarified policies for the public to understand and vote for.

Johnson and Stein, with less than two months to make an impact on America, still have a long way to go before they are included in the debates. Considering all factors, it would be beneficial for the nation if any of the third party candidates are including in the debates despite the negative consequences. However, Johnson and Stein should focus on asking supporters to register to vote under their name, as it is the only way they are going to be heard in the debates, for good reason. Therefore, a third party candidate in the 2016 presidential debates will certainly be something to look forward to, but official entrance rules should not be bypassed.


  1. You wrote “If Johnson enters the debates, he may inadvertently cause a Clinton victory, a prospect Republicans clearly do not desire,” but it is not so clear. Many Republican leaders, including Bush 41, have stated that they plan to vote for Clinton. Her politics are, after all, fairly traditional Republican positions and would not have seemed out of place in the Eisenhower administration. The Republican party has swung much further right (or just in random directions, like Trump) than most Republicans, so a Clinton victory may well be a desired outcome for many Republicans. (After all, as the party that just says “no”, they can look forward to another 4 years of preventing the government from working, no matter who is President.)