Three’s a crowd: the struggles of third party candidates

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. President, has not had a good few months.

He looks set to dip below 5% (the level needed to receive state funding); his running mate has focused his energy on defeating Donald Trump instead of electing Johnson; and two weeks ago a video of Johnson went viral after it caught him shouting at a reporter who asked him about taxes.

And yet it all seemed to be going so well. In the summer he was polling over ten percent. It looked as if he might enter the Presidential debates. But as he made gaffe after gaffe and failed to get into the debates, he faded away.

It’s not just Johnson whose campaign has struggled. Jill Stein, the Green candidate, was optimistic about picking up left-wing voters who had backed unsuccessful Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. At some points throughout the summer she reached six percent in polls. She now averages just 1-2%.

US politics is not kind to small parties. The winner-take-all voting system pushes voters into one of two camps in almost all cases; the last candidate to win a state who was not a Democrat or Republican was the segregationist George Wallace in 1968.

But equally, the small parties are pretty embarrassing. At the Libertarian convention, the party made headlines when a candidate for Chairman stripped during his nomination speech.

The Greens, meanwhile, have no elected officials in state or federal offices anywhere in the United States, and have shown no coherent strategy to get any candidates elected.

In the end, the fact that Stein and Johnson have not had their breakthrough moment in 2016 is probably a consequence of three factors.

Firstly, they face an electoral system that severely deters people from straying from the major parties.

Secondly, both Stein and Johnson’s parties have no clear strategy as to how to actually win power in the United States.

And finally, they face a fascist Republican, Trump, who has been so horrifying to so many Americans that they see a vote for anyone other than Hillary Clinton as a vote-by-proxy for Trump – which it is.


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August 2022
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