Third Party Candidates Excluded From Presidential, Vice-Presidential Debate
As expected, the Commission on Presidential Debates has issued its invitations to the first Presidential debate on September 26th and the Vice-Presidential debate on October 4th and in both cases the third party-candidates have failed to qualify under the Commission’s pre-announced rules:
Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein failed to make the cut for the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Friday afternoon, in a significant blow for their campaigns.
Though Johnson and Stein satisfied two of the criteria necessary to participate – that they be constitutionally eligible and have achieved ballot access in a sufficient number of states to win a theoretical Electoral College majority – neither met the threshold on polling.
The commission said Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been formally invited to participate in the first presidential debate later this month, while their running mates, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, have been invited to participate in the vice presidential debate on Oct. 4.
Washington, D.C. (September 16, 2016) – The nonpartisan, non-profit Commission on Presidential Debates (“CPD”) announced today that it has applied its Nonpartisan Candidate Selection Criteria for 2016 General Election Debate participation to determine eligibility to participate in the presidential debate to take place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on September 26 and the vice-presidential debate to take place on October 4 at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia.
Pursuant to the criteria, which were publicly announced on October 29, 2015, those candidates qualify for debate participation who: (1) are constitutionally eligible to hold the office of President of the United States; (2) have achieved ballot access in a sufficient number of states to win a theoretical Electoral College majority in the general election; and (3) have demonstrated a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate, as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly-reported results.
The Board of Directors of the CPD convened today to apply the criteria. Of the many declared candidates, four candidates presently satisfy the first two criteria: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.
With respect to the third criterion, on August 15, 2016, CPD announced the five polls it would rely upon, which were selected with the professional advice of Dr. Frank Newport, Editor-in-Chief of Gallup. The polls were selected based on: the reliable frequency of polling and sample size used by the polling organization; the soundness of the survey methodology employed by the polling organization; and the longevity and reputation of the polling organization. The five selected polls are: ABC-Washington Post; CBS-New York Times; CNN-Opinion Research Corporation; Fox News; and NBC-Wall Street Journal.
With the assistance of Dr. Newport, the Board determined that the polling averages called for in the third criterion are as follows: Hillary Clinton (43%), Donald Trump (40.4%), Gary Johnson (8.4%) and Jill Stein (3.2%). Accordingly, Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, and Donald Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, qualify to participate in the September 26 presidential debate and the October 4 vice-presidential debate, respectively. No other candidates satisfied the criteria for inclusion in the September 26 and October 4 debates. The criteria will be reapplied to all candidates in advance of the second and third presidential debates.
The CPD has successfully sponsored the presidential and vice presidential general election debates since 1988. The CPD’s planning for the 2016 debates has extended over a period of years and has drawn upon the CPD’s now-extensive experience in sponsoring general election debates. CPD announced the five journalists who will moderate those debates: Lester Holt, Elaine Quijano, Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper, and Chris Wallace.
The candidates who have qualified to participate today previously have committed to participate in the debates sponsored by the CPD.
And the Johnson/Weld campaign has already responded to their exclusion from these first two debates:
I would say I am surprised that the CPD has chosen to exclude me from the first debate, but I’m not. After all, the Commission is a private organization created 30 years ago by the Republican and Democratic parties for the clear purpose of taking control of the only nationally-televised presidential debates voters will see. At the time of its creation, the leaders of those two parties made no effort to hide the fact that they didn’t want any third party intrusions into their shows.
The only time a third candidate has been allowed on the stage was 1992, when both parties wanted him on the stage for their own purposes. It should be noted that, when Perot was allowed on the stage, polls showed his support to be in single digits, below where Johnson and Weld are currently polling.
The CPD may scoff at a ticket that enjoys “only” 9 or 10% in their hand-selected polls, but even 9% represents 13 million voters, more than the total population of Ohio and most other states. Yet, the Republicans and Democrats are choosing to silence the candidate preferred by those millions of Americans.
Americans are tired of rigged systems, and the monopoly on debates created by the CPD is a prime and skillfully executed example.
Bill Weld and I will continue to fight to provide a voice and an alternative for independents, disenfranchised Republicans and Democrats, Millennials and others who aren’t satisfied with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as their options.
It is unfortunate that the CPD doesn’t believe such a voice should be heard. There are more polls and more debates, and we plan to be on the debate stage in October.
As I noted earlier this week, this is hardly a surprising development. While Johnson and Stein have both polled better on the national level than any third-party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, and Johnson in particular was polling close to the 15% threshold in several states and particularly competitively among voters under 35, neither candidate came close to the 15% cutoff that the Commission has mandated since the 2000 election. This is true whether you look at the limited number of polls that the Commission is considering in issuing its invitations as well as the broader universe of polls as measured by If one or both of them were closer, say within a percentage point or two, then it arguably would have been harder for the Commission to exclude such a candidate notwithstanding their supposed “hard” rule of 15% being the cut-off. As it was, Johnson presently stands just a little bit better than at 50% of where he needed to be by this point in the cycle to receive and invitation, and Stein was polling with about 1/5th the level of support she needed to qualify. With those numbers, it was relatively easy for the Commission to make its decision.
The Commission says it will re-evaluate the invitations after these first two debates and issue invitations for the final two Presidential debates accordingly, but in all honesty it’s unlikely that either Johnson or Stein will get any closer to 15% between now and then. Theoretically at least, that might have been different had one or both of them received an invitation to the first round of debates and they would have seen there standing in the polls increase. This is especially true given the fact that a majority of respondents even in polls where Johnson and Stein have performed well have said that they haven’t heard enough about those candidates to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion of them. In the recent Quinnipiac poll that saw Johnson get support from 13% of respondents for example, 53% of respondents said they don’t know enough about Johnson to form an opinion. In the same poll in response to the same question about Stein, who came in with 4% support, 72% of respondents said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion. (Source) Given these high “Don’t Know” numbers, it’s no surprise that neither candidate came close to the 15% threshold. At least in theory, that would no longer be true for most voters if they were included in the first debate. .Whether their support increased or decreased after that point would be up to voters. That’s why I think the “sliding scale” rule I suggested for debate criteria in my post earlier this week — where candidates would be required to poll higher to be included in the final debates than they would to get an invitation to the first debate. As it stands, though, if a candidate is Constitutionally eligible to be President, is on the ballot in enough states to actually be a potential factor in the election, and polling at five percent (5%) or better in a wider universe of polls than just the five polls the Commission is considering should be allowed on the stage with the major party candidates. If they can make their case, or if the major party candidates look ridiculous compared to them, then the American public can judge accordingly. As long as access to the debates is controlled by a “Commission” that is little more than the instrument of the two major parties, that’s unlikely to happen.