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Third parties candidates: an alternative option or a wasted vote


By Graham Dodd

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are potentially the most disliked presidential candidates in American history. While many voters feel forced to pick one of the two, others are searching for alternatives.

Professor Barbara Trish, Political Science, says this has created a rare opportunity for third parties and independents, which are typically overshadowed in America’s two-party system.

“With unfavorable scores for both candidates this year, this would be the year to pull it off,” Trish said regarding the potential for third party candidates Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and independent Evan McMullin to broaden their support bases and garner significantly more votes than in the past.

Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico, is the presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party. He is running on a platform based on reducing the size and reach of the government. Consistent with libertarian ideals, on most issues Johnson supports deregulation and emphasizes civil rights. Running mate Bill Weld, former governor of Massachusetts, adds political credibility to Johnson’s campaign. Johnson is currently polling at around nine percent nationally and is on the presidential ballot in all 50 states.

“I think Gary Johnson is a credible candidate, he has experience, notwithstanding the Aleppo thing,” Trish said in reference to a recent gaffe of Johnson’s wherein he did not know the name of a major hotspot in the Syrian war. “The message people took away from it was that he probably didn’t have the knowledge to engage in foreign affairs. But he is a credible third party candidate. He’s got a credible running mate, and by credible, I mean someone with experience in the political realm.”

Dr. Jill Stein is the Green Party’s presidential candidate. Her platform is centered around a variety of left-wing policies. These include extensive climate control reform, free college education and criminal justice reform. The Green Party hopes to greatly expand the role of the federal government in order to create universal standards of employment, health care and justice. Stein is currently polling at three percent nationally and is on the ballot in 45 states, with write-in status in another 3 states.

Independent candidate Evan McMullin is the former Chief Policy Director for the House Republican Conference in the U.S. House of Representatives and a former CIA operations officer. His campaign strategy appeals to Republicans who cannot bring themselves to vote for Trump. McMullin, who has very little name recognition, is only taking one percent in the polls and is on the ballot in only 10 states.

In America’s two-party system, it can seem wasteful to vote for a third party candidate who has little chance of winning. Anna Schierenbeck ’18 is the co-chair of Campus Democrats, a student organization which encourages student political participation. She does not think voting for third parties is wasteful despite the likelihood that such votes will not result in their candidate winning.

“I don’t think it is wasting your vote to vote for third party,” Schierenbeck said, “Just because you should vote for the person that most aligns with your values. What I will say is that I think that, when you recognize the dominance of the two-party system in this country, it is important, especially in presidential elections where it is harder for candidates to gain more votes, that you have to recognize that your vote probably won’t result in a win.”

Schierenbeck pointed out that Iowa voters may not be in the best position to send a message by voting third party because Iowa is a swing state.

“In the case of a high stakes presidential election where the two opposing Republican and Democrat candidates are so ideologically different,” Schierenbeck said “I think that it makes the most sense to vote for one of the two major parties.”

Trish noted additional concerns for voters considering candidates from outside the two major parties.

“It is really hard for third parties to compete in the US system,” she said. “The decks are stacked against them. The rules work to their disadvantage. Not just in the obvious ways. They’ve got to demonstrate a pretty monumental threshold to be included in the debate, for example. It is harder to get onto the ballot for them in many states. Everything seems to work against them. We don’t have a great history in the United States of third party or independent candidate success.”

third-party-candidates-graphicTrish added she that she does not believe third party votes are not wasted votes, although their impact is limited.

“Also there is a message that comes with significant support for a third party candidate. Either a message that says you don’t like either of the major party options, or that there may be a policy message you’d like to send with your support of the Libertarian or Green party.”

Johnson, Stein and McMullin will be on the Iowa ballot come election day.

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