Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Third-party candidates should be allowed to debate

 Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Last Monday, the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton took place, with an estimated 84 million people tuning in, making this the most-watched debate in history by a margin of about three million people. This increase in viewership is not entirely surprising, as this election season has kept voters both old and young glued to their televisions, anxious to hear what these candidates will say next. It has been a historically entertaining election and although that is not inherently a good thing, it does encourage more people to pay attention, which hopefully in turn encourages more people to vote.

However, millions of voters were left disappointed even before the candidates took the stage, as two presidential candidates were excluded from the debate altogether.

Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, two third-party candidates who have gained support from millions of Americans, did not qualify to speak at the debate according to the 15 percent support rule that was first adopted by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a private, nonpartisan organization, in 2000. This rule states that presidential candidates must have at least 15 percent support of the national electorate, according to five national public opinion polls, by a certain date in order to qualify to speak at presidential debates.

By this rule, Clinton and Trump, who averaged 43 percent and 40.4 percent of support respectively, qualified to debate but Johnson and Stein did not, with only an average of 8.4 percent and 3.2 percent of support respectively.

Although the number of 15 percent chosen by the CPD does seem rather arbitrary, it is understandable why Stein was excluded from the debate. Her average of three percent is woefully under the limit set by the CPD.

However, Johnson’s eight percent, a number that still falls well below the standard set by the CPD, is not as small as it may seem. As Johnson said in a statement after it was announced that he would not be participating in the debate, “The CPD may scoff at a ticket that enjoys ‘only’ nine or ten percent in their hand-selected polls, but even nine percent represents 13 million voters, more than the total population of Ohio and most other states.”

The eight percent of voters that are currently supporting Gary Johnson are not the fringe outliers that the CPD is making them out to be. Those 13 million voters may in fact decide this election.

It has been a common narrative throughout this election season that Hillary Clinton needs to appeal to young voters. The younger generation is disenchanted by a political past that has been riddled with scandals and this same demographic was tempted by Sanders’ more radical and bold policies. In the opinion of some of these young voters, Clinton does not stack up to a candidate like Johnson, who has similar policies to Sanders when it comes to domestic issues such as abortion, the legalization of marijuana and gay rights, and also supports a more non-interventionist attitude when it comes to foreign affairs.

However, Johnson is still lacking tremendously in the one area that consistently sets Hillary Clinton apart, not only from the other candidates this election season, but arguably from every person to ever run for president: experience.

Johnson’s political past includes his time as the Governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003 and his campaigns for President in 2012 and 2016. However, it’s his lack of experience when it comes to foreign affairs that has been blatantly on display within the past month, beginning on September 8 when Johnson was unable to answer a question about how he would address the refugee crisis in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo, now infamously responding with the question, “What is Aleppo?” Johnson recently slipped up again when on September 28 he had a self-proclaimed “Aleppo moment,” finding himself unable to name a single foreign leader when asked to name one that he admires.

With his recent history of interview blunders, it is difficult to imagine how well Johnson would perform against Clinton and Trump in a presidential debate. That being said, he certainly deserves the right to be on the stage. If nothing else, perhaps opening up the debate to third-party candidates would lead to an even greater increase in viewership, specifically from the young voters that are so crucial in this election.

Tess Halpern is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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