Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 27, 2022

Meet this year’s third-party presidential candidates

By SHERRY KIM | November 3, 2016

As the 2016 U.S. presidential election inches closer, the media’s perception and public consciousness of the elections have largely been dominated by the two figures, Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Party nominee Donald Trump. Even in the wider legislative and congressional spheres, U.S. politics are largely dominated by a duopoly of these two major powerhouse parties.

At the same time, however, no two candidates have ever been polling such high numbers in their unfavorability ratings. Americans’ distaste for both Trump and Clinton is historically record-breaking. According to a CBS/The New York Times poll released in March, Trump stood at a 57 percent unfavorable rating and Clinton at a 52 percent unfavorability rating among registered voters. This is in stark contrast to the presidential elections of 2012, where Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney was polling at an unfavorability rating of 37 percent, and Democratic Party candidate and incumbent president Barack Obama at an unfavorability rating of 41 percent.

Not only are the unfavorability ratings of Clinton and Trump the two highest for any major party presidential candidate since 1984, but also the discontent is spread amongst voters across parties. In fact, according to the same poll, more than half of Independents have unfavorable views of both candidates.

It is therefore not surprising that a growing number of voters, particularly young voters, are gravitating toward third-party candidates in this year’s election.

The two major third-party candidates this year that made their way onto over 40 state ballots are the Green Party’s Jill Stein, with Ajamu Baraka as vice presidential nominee, and the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson, with Bill Weld as vice presidential nominee.

The Green Party is grounded in its environmentalist views, and Stein also ran as the party’s nominee in the 2012 election. This year, following Clinton’s official Democratic Party nomination, the Green Party has been working to appeal to previous Bernie Sanders supporters as well.

The Libertarian Party’s ticket, headed by former New Mexico Governor Johnson, who also ran in the 2012 elections, and former Massachusetts Governor Weld, espouses firmly isolationist stances and non-interventionist, laissez-faire policies.

However, neither Stein nor Johnson qualified to take the stage at the presidential debates this year, as they were not polling at 15 percent or higher in an average of five major national polls and thus did not have a mathematical chance at winning the presidency. At the time of the Commission on Presidential Debates’ announcement in September, Stein was polling at an average of three percent in the five polls used for the criteria, and Johnson at an average of eight percent. Johnson had the best chance but still did not make the cut.

However, third-party candidates in U.S. politics are viewed somewhat skeptically as simply dividing narrow votes between potential candidates in the two powerhouse parties, and therefore unhelpful in the reality of the political arena. For instance, in the 2000 presidential election, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader’s votes narrowly tipped the scale in favor of Republican candidate George W. Bush, away from Democratic candidate Al Gore.

Still, a number of voters make the argument that voting for a third-party candidate provides a way to escape the dichotomy of the two-party system, and the unfavorable two candidates representing these parties, particularly in an election year as divided as this one.

The Founding Fathers were, in fact, ardently against a two-party model political faction system, and the first three presidents — George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson — even explicitly cautioned against the destabilizing threat of the political party system. There is an argument claiming that third-party candidates allow a potential to diversify the political arena and the conversations taking place, as well as the ability to espouse new views.

In response to these appraisals of third-party candidates, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver spoke to the unrealistic nature of the argument that gravitating towards third party candidate options would provide a way to extricate oneself from the inauspicious two-party system and its proposed candidates, asserting that the claims and reasoning behind this argument are baseless upon closer examination. Oliver criticized the two major third-party candidates, Stein and Johnson and the reality of their respective platforms by critiquing the implications of both Stein’s student debt cancellation policy through quantitative easing and Johnson’s disillusionment and lack of understanding about key government agencies, including the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce.

“I would love for there to be a perfect third party candidate. I understand the argument that a third party candidate can put a new issue or a new solution on the table,” Oliver said. “But it is hard to make the case that that is what is happening here. There is no perfect candidate in this race, and when people say ‘You don’t have to choose the lesser of two evils,’ they are right because you have to choose the lesser of four. Anyone who goes into a voting booth on Nov. 8 and comes out saying, ‘I feel 100 percent great about what I just did,’ is either lying to themselves or did something unspeakable in that booth.”

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