Dissatisfied with the choice between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan? Convinced tha the two major political parties are bankrupt of new ideas? Feel like casting your presidential ballot on Nov. 4 for "None of the above?"
You've got lots of company. Recent polls suggest that the Carter-Reagan match-up leaves as many as one-half of all Americans cold.
If you're among them, take heart. You needn't resolve to spend election day in bed, or the next four years in Mexico.
There is a way out: Vote for another candidate. Americans looking for an alternative to Democrat Carter and Republican Reagan enjoy the luxury, rare in presidential politics, of three other possible choices which, while perhaps not electing the next president, may represent more than a token protest vote.
The options include a strong independent candidate with an outside shot at capturing the White House (John B. Anderson) and two genuinely national "third" parties (the Libertarian Party and the Citizens Party).
One or more of these alternative presidential tickets seem likely to be available to most American voters by appearing on the ballot in most, if not all , of the 50 states.
They are running not only against Mr. Carter and Mr. Reagan, but also against the tide of American history.
Only one third party has ever managed to win the presidency (the fledgling Republican Party in 1860 with a former one-term congressman named Abraham Lincoln).
Since then, minor parties have corralled more than 10 percent of the votes in only four presidential elections (in 1892 with the Populists, in 1912 with Theodore Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" National Progressives, in 1924 with Robert M. La Follette's Progressives, and in 1968 with George C. Wallace's American Party).
In the last presidential election, in 1976, the eight assorted minor candidates who appeared on the ballot in 10 or more states, led by independent Eugene J. McCarthy, took just 1.7 percent of the votes.
Insurgent presidential hopefuls also are battling a campaign finance setup that is weighted against them.
The six-year-old system of subsidizing presidential campaigns through a voluntary $1 checkoff on federal income-tax returns limits the money third-party candidates can raise ($1,000 per contributor, the same as for major candidates), but gives most of them not a penny in return.
They qualify for federal matching funds only if they wind up winning at least 5 percent of the votes -- an accomplishment which becomes known only after the election, of course -- too late it to aid their campaigns.
The campaign balance sheets tell the story. In 1976, while the minor presidential candidates scratched and scraped to raise $2 million, all from private donors, the Carter and Ford campaigns collected $43.6 million ($21.8 million each) from the federal Treasury.
This year the Democratic and Republican nominees will receive $58.8 million in public funds -- automatically and early in their campaigns. Mr. Reagan already has been issued his $29.4 million check.
Despite the formidable historical and financial obstacles facing independent and third-party candidates, the level of popular discontent surfacing in opinion polls suggests that this year may be different.
Independent Anderson, for example, is maintaining in the polls the support of a steady 15 percent to 20 percent of the voters. He is assured of a place on the ballot, or has met the legal requirements, in 34 states and is working on the rest. His drive to raise a campaign chest of $12 million to $15 million is reported on schedule.
The Libertanian Party, meanwhile, already has qualified for more state ballots than it did four years ago (32), and confidently expects to appear on all 50. It also has drummed up twice as much campaign money ($700,000) as it did in 1976.
The Citizens Party is well on its way to gaining access to the ballot in 33 states containing 75 percent of the American population. It already has spent more money (more than $200,000) than did all but the two most successful third parties over the entire campaign four years ago.
Did somebody ask about fresh ideas? Disgruntled Americans looking for something more imaginative than what they may see as the tweedledum-and-tweedledee solutions of the major parties will find no shortage here.
Take, for starters, the important field of energy. You can choose among a 50 -cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline to slash dependence on foreign oil (Anderson), abolition of the US Department of Energy and most federal energy regulations (Libertarians), and creation of a federal corporation to take over much of the country's oil business and run it like a public utility (Citizens Party).
Here on this page is a sampler of "alternative" ideas, together with a glimpse of the presidential candidates who espouse them, and the movements behind them. Anderson -- goes it alone
Until a few months ago, John B. Anderson was a well- kept House secret.
The slight, prematurely white-haired Illinois Republican congressman often seemed so bursting with ideas that he was incapable of giving a pat response to even the most repetitious question.
And the emotional intensity of his oratory made him one of the few members of the House of Representatives who could suddenly breathe life into a listless debate with a few ringing phrases in his crisp Midwestern baritone.
But the relative obscurity of most representatives, particularly those in the minority party, left him largely unknown outside of constituents in Rockford, Ill.; his colleagues, and Capitol Hill reporters.
Having spread his political wings and soared beyond the House chamber, Mr. Anderson remains as much of a spellbinder as ever, and as tantalized by ideas -- even unpopular ones. But he is no longer just a nugget of inside political knowledge.
"Discovered" first by college students as an unsuccessful candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, and later as an independent by a fifth of the American electorate -- indentified as predominantly liberal, well- educated, and middle-class -- he is now rated as running ahead of President Carter in several major states.
Some of his proposals:
* A so-called "50-50 plan" to raise the federal tax on gasoline by 50 cents and cut employee-paid social security taxes by 50 percent. The plan is billed as reducing American gasoline consumption by 5 percent to 10 percent, while producing a net savings through payroll tax relief for the average American family that drives less than 17,800 miles a year.
* "Using our heads" in national defense weaponry by shunning super-sophisticated systems so costly that the country can afford only an insufficient few, and instead buying more weapons that are slightly less sophisticated but still superior to those of our foes -- thereby getting more defense per dollar.
* Attacking inflation and unemployed by, among other things, a 10 percent tax credit for industrial research and development, and a temporary 25 percent cut in the national minimum wage for newly hired, young, full-time employees, to stimulate jobs for youths.
* Helping cities to fiscal solvency by transferring to them, via the states gradually over for years, the hefty revenues from federal alcohol and tobacco taxes.
Congressman Anderson also favors the Equal Rights Amendment, stricter controls on nuclear power, deposits on beer and soft-drink containers, and phasing out the federal limit on retirees' outside earnings. He opposes draft registration. Clark leads Libertarians
The standard-bearer of the Libertarian Party is as much of a political paradox, fittingly, as his party.
Looking like the most mild and unopinionated neighbor on any suburban block, Edward E. Clark softly monotones some of the most sweeping proposals to be heard in this presidential campaign.
Reared in the traditions of Yankee Republicanism -- a second-generation Harvard lawyer from an old Massachusetts GOP family -- he was wound up on the ticket of perhaps the most untraditional of third parties.
That party is equally awkward to pigeonhole.
The Libertarians would dismantle huge chunks of the federal government (cheers from conservatives), but also lower defense spending and America's profile overseas (cheers from liberals).
Mr. Clark explains the seeming contradictions in both his party and himself as the natural convergence of a Republican "free market" philosophy and a liberal Democratic "noninterventionist foreign policy."
The party's adherents, consequently, are something of an amalgam of the two philosophical strains, although Mr. Clark concedes that the conservative, free-market wing is stronger.
The eight-year-old Libertarian Party ranks as the largest of the nation's tiny third parties.
It attracted 173,000 votes for president in 1976 (0.2 percent of the total cast), and 1.3 million votes in some 200 congressional, state, and local races in 1978 (when Mr. Clark, by now living in California, drew a respectable 5.5 percent of the vote in the election for governor).
Nationally, the Libertarians would:
* Cut federal income tax rates in half, exempt from taxes annual incomes below $7,500, eliminate inheritance taxes, custom duties, and the crude oil excise tax.
* Slah the federal budget by $200 billion, or about one- third, including trimming $50 billion in military spending and abolishing a whole wall chart of agencies, such as the Departments of Energy and Education, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
* End federal antipollution controls, draft registration, and US participation in NATO, but push for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Commoner's Citizens Party
True to its name, the Citizens Party determinedly cultivates a common touch.
Its presidential convention was held, not in Manhattan (like the Democrats') or in a glittering new arena in Detroit (like the Republicans'), but in an aging hotel in Cleveland.
Much of its pitch is angled toward labor unions, and its organizational strength is rooted in the nation's Northern industrial belt.
Presidential candidate Barry Commoner, whose Brooklyn-accented earthiness belies the owlish appearance of this well-known environmental professor and author, directs his most vehement attacks at corporate power.
"Our industrial decline," he says, "is a symptom of a basic fault in the economic system -- that the decisions which determine how the system operates, and its impact on workers and consumers, are made by the managers of a handful of big corporations, not in the interests of the nation, but to maximize short-term corporate profits."
His party's answer: more "social governance" -- not the socialistic approach of full public ownership and control of economic power, he says, but just greater public control.
The Citizens Party, launched barely a year ago by a band of disenchanted liberals and populists, has set for itself the modest goal of cornering 5 percent of the 1980 presidential vote as an electoral base for building a major party during the coming decade.
* Creating a federal corporation to purchase and distribute all imported oil at a fixed rate of profit.
* Creating a "public auto-workers corporation for transportation" to invest federal money in converting closed auto plants to produce cheaper, safer, and fuel- efficient cars, mass-transit equipment, and gasohol stills.
* Beginning worldwide nuclear disarmament by publishing all unreleased federal documents on the perils of nuclear war, requesting a United Nations conference on the consequences of such a war, then opening international disarmament talks.
For more information on any of these three campaigns, write: National Unity Campaign for John Anderson 3255 K Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20007 Libertarian Party 2300 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 2007 Citizens Party 525 13th Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004