Voters want to see a third party candidate on stage at the first presidential debate. That’s according to a new Morning Consult poll released on Thursday.
The poll found that 52% of respondents favored the idea of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson participating in the first presidential debate next month. The same poll found that 47% of respondents favored including Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
The poll also found that only 22% of voters opposed having Johnson participate in the debates and 26% opposed Stein participating. Twenty-six percent of respondents said they were unsure or did not have an opinion about Johnson’s participation, and 27% felt the same way about Stein.
Earlier this month the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced its criteria for candidate eligibility in the upcoming debates. According to the commission a candidate must receive an average of 15% support in the most recent polls conducted by ABC-Washington Post, CBS-New York Times, CNN-Opinion Research Corporation, Fox News, and NBC-Wall Street Journal.
Over the past two months Johnson has scored as high as 12 and 13% in CNN-ORC and Fox News polls but is averaging well below 15% overall. Stein currently sits at about 3.1% in an average of polls selected by Real Clear Politics. Her performance, as measured by the polling outlets that were selected by the commission, consistently hovers between 2-5%.
The fact that so many people support including Johnson and Stein in the debates even if they do not plan to vote for them reflects the findings of other polls, which suggest that many Americans are fed up with the two-party system but are not willing to risk voting for a third party candidate.
A poll conducted by Gallup in late 2015 found that six in ten Americans believe America needs a major third party. Meanwhile, more and more Americans identify as independents each year, even as they continue to vote for major party candidates.
It remains to be seen how bringing third party candidates into the debates might affect the how people vote in November. The last third party presidential candidate to make a debate stage was Ross Perot who ran on the Reform Party ticket in 1992. Perot managed to take enough of the vote from Bush and Clinton that Clinton eventually won with less than 50% of the popular vote. However Perot did not manage to win the most votes in any one state and did not receive any Electoral College votes.
Johnson and Stein are both polling well below Perot's 1992 performance, which ended in with him taking almost 18.9% of the national vote. But if they managed to make it onto a debate stage in a year when the two major party candidates both have historically low favorability ratings who knows what could happen.