The premise of this piece is simple: if you don’t firmly support Trump or Clinton, you should openly support Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee, at least until you actually vote in November. Also, politics and elections are a big picture long game, so you need to think about your support and vote as not just impacting this election, but the elections to come.
Although I would like to see you actually vote for Johnson in November, all you really need to do is openly support Johnson until then. The reason for this comes down to basic math: Johnson will be invited to the presidential debates if he is polling at a minimum of 15% based on the “average of five selected national public opinion polling organizations’ most recently publicly reported results, at the time eligibility is determined.”
Brief History of the Presidential Debates
The Commission on Presidential Debates (the “CPD”) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 to regulate presidential debates in the U.S. It doesn’t receive government funding, but it was created by the Republican and Democratic parties for the supposed purpose of ensuring that presidential debates offer the best information to prospective voters. Since the 1988 debates, the CPD has controlled every general election debate and, only in 1992, has a third party been present at them. That year, Ross Perot attended the debates and went on to win 19% of the popular vote.
Why Debates Matter
Not only do the presidential debates give candidates the ability to participate in high-profile arenas where they can share their views, but they also give the attendees an air of authority and significance. Millions of people watch them, pundits endlessly comment on them, and they expose the attendees to the public at large. Without a spot on that stage, a candidate has almost no chance of reaching the public at large. This means that third parties languish on the sidelines as topics of interest for only the most politically-attentive Americans.
The debates also provide the only potential opportunity for candidates to directly engage with one another. Outside of the CPD-sanctioned debate stages, candidates tend not to interact directly, opting for indirect opportunities through their campaign machines and media to attack their opponents’ positions. But in the debates, they’re head-to-head, and this sharpens their contrasts.
Why Supporting Johnson Matters…even if you’re not a Libertarian
Getting a third party on the debate stages is important for our democracy. Voters have more than two choices, although most either don’t know that, or think it isn’t significant because the likelihood of a third party winning the election is too unlikely. To some extent, the latter camp is correct, because it would take a political miracle for a third party to win the general election this year. Getting Johnson (or any other viable third party candidate) onto the debate stage is a step towards breaking our country’s dependence on the two-party system. More candidates means more choices, and more choices means a better chance of breaking down the beleaguered beats the two major parties have gotten so good at walking. A third party could shake up the (increasingly transparent) holograms being broadcast by the two major parties.
Think of it this way: if you’re in a fight against one other person, you only have to watch out for attacks from that angle. But bring a third fighter into the mix, and now you’re vulnerable from positions you otherwise wouldn’t have had to defend. This makes it more likely for weaker fighters to get knocked out and strengthens better fighters whose stance can actually hold up against attacks from all sides.
Why You Should Vote for Gary Johnson in November
Put simply, a political party convention is eligible for federal campaign financing in a general election if it wins at least 5% of the popular vote in the preceding election. Getting this funding would be huge for a third party, because one of the biggest barriers to entry into this protected field is money. We have to think ahead, and although you might be right when you say that a third party could never win the election, you’re only partially right. After this election, another will occur in at least four years. After that, at least another four. And so on. To create real and lasting change, you need to play the long game. Your vote in November will have consequences for the next cycle. Don’t waste it on Trump or Clinton, unless you’re in a battleground state like Ohio or Florida and you actually want one of them to win.