Why Americans want to see Gary Johnson at the presidential debates
Polls show a majority of Americans want a third-party candidate to take the stand at the coming presidential debates. Attendees at a Boston rally for Libertarian Gary Johnson say their interest is partly driven by dislike of the two major candidates.
Lucy Schouten/The Christian Science Monitor
Three out of five American voters want a third-party candidate to speak during the coming presidential debates, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll – a sign that Americans want an alternative to this unusually negative presidential race.
This poll gave Libertarian Gary Johnson, the top third-party presidential candidate, just 10 percent of the vote, but noted 62 percent of those surveyed said they wanted to see a third-party candidate in the presidential debates, and 37 percent said they were looking to vote independent of the two major parties this November.
There are three presidential debates scheduled for September and October. The first is Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York.
At a Saturday rally for Mr. Johnson and his running mate, William Weld, in Boston, those attending told The Christian Science Monitor that the complexity and polarization of 2016 US politics is driving them to look at third parties, many for the first time.
"People think that if you vote for a party that doesn't have as much notoriety as the Democrats you waste your vote," says Michelle Tate, a lifelong Massachusetts Democrat who calls herself a Libertarian party "convert" after Saturday's rally. "But I liked what [Mr. Weld] said: you're wasting your vote if you vote for someone you don't believe in."
Ms. Tate says her enthusiasm for Johnson has replaced her initial dislike of the Republican and Democratic candidates.
Her husband, however, has voted as an independent for 28 years. But Paul Tate says that for the first time, he saw more Millennials attending a Johnson rally. "I like the youthfulness of the audience," he says.
Many interviewed Saturday were attending their first third-party rally, saying they wanted more voices in American politics after a difficult presidential race which has loosened their traditional political moorings. Several at the rally held signs calling to "Let Gary debate."
To attend the presidential debates, Johnson needs support above 15 percent in five major, nonpartisan polls as established by the Commission on Presidential Debates. No third-party candidate has done that since the standard was created in 2000, Politico reported, but polls are now asking about both Johnson and the candidate for the nation's largest second-largest third party, Jill Stein of the Green Party.
"One way [to reach the debates] is 15 percent, and we're close," said former Republican Massachusetts Gov. Weld, Johnson's running mate, during the rally. "Three months ago [polls showed the party support] was 5 percent."
The respected FiveThirtyEight.com blog, notes that Johnson is averaging 9 percent in the polls, but hasn't climbed much recently. At this point in 1992, Ross Perot was polling at 20 percent.
Third parties face a steep climb, especially during a presidential election, but controversy surrounding both major-party candidates has turned the attention of many elsewhere. Both Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton draw passionate support within their base, but polls regularly show they are some of the most disliked presidential candidates in recent history, with unfavorable ratings from a majority of Americans.
"We're disgusted with the other two candidates," says Colleen Mucci, who attended the Boston rally with her husband, a Democrat who has become interested in third parties during this presidential campaign. Although Ms. Mucci has some experience with libertarianism, this would be her first third-party presidential vote.
"This is the first time [Johnson and Mr. Weld] really have a shot, especially considering how weak and controversial the other two candidates are," she says.
Cris Crawford, a long-time Massachusetts Libertarian who voted for Johnson at the party's convention, noted the 1,000-strong attendance at the Boston Common rally and hoped the rising third-party interest would affect US politics more broadly.
"We've never had anything like this – ever," Ms. Crawford says. "They are conducting a bona fide field campaign the likes of which I have never seen."
After years of seeing "1 percent" poll ratings, Crawford shakes off projections about November.
"More interesting," she says, "is how will this campaign shape the mind of the electorate when it comes to politics?"
Sean MacLaughlin, a Massachusetts Democrat, says he finds both major candidates unappealing but believes Johnson and Weld represent "a lot of good, moderate Republicans" who are pushed aside by a polarizing two-party process.
"The more voices in political discourse – the better," says Mr. MacLaughlin.
He hopes the pair make the presidential debates. "It might pull the right and the left more center," he says.
[Editor's Note: The spelling of Cris Crawford's name has been corrected.]