It is impossible for one single party to represent the many views that lie on the political spectrum. Two party voters with minority ideologies are expected to run their token perennial candidate during the primary season then fall in line behind the establishment choice for the general election. This was made especially clear during this election cycle with the endless obstacles and rigged rules thrown in the paths of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, candidates who represent a major break with their respective party lines. Their decision to navigate a hostile primary process only supports the broken paradigm and keeps their supporters within the clutches of the two parties.
It’s a common refrain that voting for a third party is throwing your vote away. But, a vote for a Democrat or a Republican won’t affect the results of a presidential election whatsoever. However a vote for a third party candidate has much more impact and goes a long way to smash the wall separating third parties from mainstream politics.
For the 2012 election, many would think I threw my vote away when I supported Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party (LP) for president. He was by no means my first choice and I found him very plain when he ran for the Republican (GOP) nomination beforehand that same year. But, neither Mitt Romney or Barack Obama were appealing and I didn’t want to invest my faith into them.
Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, captured my interest because of his practical approach. He understands that there will never be an overwhelming wave of support that will spontaneously sweep a single party and their candidate into the White House. Instead, Johnson and his party seem to have an eye for the long term, preferring to establish an air of legitimacy and viability.
My vote didn’t select the president, but it helped Johnson reach roughly 1 percent of the vote, the biggest win for a third party presidential candidate since Ralph Nader in 2000, a time before dump trucks full of money became a prerequisite to win any recognition thanks in part to the Citizens United ruling.
One percent wasn’t quite the 5 percent Johnson was hoping for, which also served as his campaign’s rallying cry. The Federal Election Commission provides public funding for party nominees whose party has reached at least 5 percent of the popular vote in the prior presidential election cycle.
Johnson is running again this year on the LP presidential ticket. A Monmouth University poll released March 24 placed Johnson at 11 percent of the popular vote in a three-way election with Clinton and Trump. If Johnson even reaches half that figure, he will receive public funding “based on the ratio of their party’s vote in the preceding Presidential election to the average of the two major party candidates in that election” which will be an eight-figure sum.
Not exactly big-time cash but, that’s money that will be used on valuable outreach in many forms which will bring a third party to voters in the same way they’re traditionally accustomed to. This exposure will go a long way to shift the image of third parties as write-in candidates and grassroots drum circles to that of a serious political force.
Moreover the LP is projected to be seen on ballots in every state and DC this year as they have in 1992, 1996 and 2000, an effort that requires serious organization. No other third party came close to such a status in 2012.
TV is the main avenue by which candidates can reach out to America. Third party debates are usually condemned to sleepy C-SPAN. But on March 29, the LP held its first debate on commercial TV with FOX Business Channel, hosted by their resident libertarian John Stossel, the same channel that hosted two of this primary season’s GOP debates, which featured all three candidates running for the LP presidential nomination including Johnson, John McAfee and Austin Peterson. This bit of recognition could be a significant first step toward the ultimate goal which is inclusion in the general election presidential debates. Since televised presidential debates began in 1960, only two independent and no third party candidates have been included: John Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992.
Johnson’s success in this year’s election will only be a positive force in pushing America beyond the deeply entrenched two-party system which continues to suppress any options for meaningful political change. Moving into the heated final stretch of the GOP and Democrat primary process, there’s even the unlikely chance that Sanders or Trump could launch a third-party run if the circumstances are ripe, bringing with them their powerful voter base. Come November, consider how far third parties can go with only a little bit of support. If only one of them breaks through to mainstream success, the path will be paved for the rest.