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Third-Party Presidential Politics: The 2016 Edition

FLICKR CC/nshepard

Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson are gaining attention --boosted by the current penchant for outsiders, as well as dismal popularity ratings for the two major Presidential candidates. But whether this will translate into votes in November remains a question.

"I am a millennial who refuses the idea that we can only choose from the lesser of two evils. Yesterday, on a handshake between friends, I traded my vote for the better. I am historically conservative and he, historically liberal. To neutralize our spoiler affect, we are going third party, separately, together." Gabriel, Exchange listener


Clare Foran, associate editor of The Atlantic.  

Ben Kamisar, campaign reporter for The Hill.

Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center and associate professor of political science at UNH.


The surge of interest in third-party candidates this campaign season is driven by the extremely low popularity of the two major party candidates.

Also playing a role, said Clare Foran, is voter dissatisfaction with the status quo in America right now. "Gary Johnson and Jill Steinare trying to seize that moment," Foran says. 

Libertarian party candidate Gary Johnson is better positioned than Green Party candidate Jill Stein, according to polling by Andy Smith. 

Gary Johnson appears to be attracting voters from the GOP and the Democrats, Smith said.  That could be in part because of elements of the Libertarian Party's platform. "It's tried to split the difference between the Republican and Democratic parties," Smith said.  

Exchange listener, Eric, says he's voting for Gary Johnson.

"I feel that the Libertarians with their fiscally conservative, socially accepting message are getting traction with the disgruntled voters in both the major party camps. I think it's worth discussing the balance and weight that Gov. Weld brings to the ticket, too."

Still, the U.S. system is not designed to encourage third-party candidates. And some might say that's an understatement.

"If you want to see bi-partisanship in action in America you can look at the ways that political parties, Democrats and Republicans, work to exclude third parties, " said Andy Smith. 

The 1992 candidacy of independent Ross Perot illustrated how the electoral college system allows third parties to have an impact but not necessarily to win the biggest prize

"He won 19%  of the vote, which is an incredible number for a third-party candidate. That said, he got zero percent of the electoral votes because he didn't win a plurality in any state," Ben Kamisar said. 

"While Nader and New Hampshire may have cost Al Gore the election, there’s really no way to tell how many voters would have just stayed home and not voted in that election. That was the case for several people I knew." Jack, Exchange listener.

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