The other options in the election

Becoming president is an uphill battle regardless of political affiliation, but for third party candidates, the hill is akin to Mount Everest. Despite the unlikelihood of winning, third party candidates like Libertarian Gary Johnson think the climb is worth the risk.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could do a really good job, and I wouldn’t be doing this if I thought the two major parties were actually talking about the problems we’re facing and the solutions that go along with them,” Johnson said at a gathering of Amendment 64 and proposition 301 supporters in Fort Collins on Friday.


Voters may find that they agree with a third party candidate, like Johnson or Jill Stein of the Green Party, more than the conventional candidates, according to Scott Phillips, president of Young Americans for Liberty at CSU. Third party candidates provide an alternative to America’s left vs. right tradition.

“When we subject ourselves to the illusion of only two candidates for presidents, the choices become polarized,” Phillips wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Our choices become black and white.  But when we introduce third party candidates, we get the gray area and with that comes many different shades.”

There are 14 parties besides Democrat and Republican listed on the November ballot.

During the 2000 election, the Commission on Presidential Debates required a candidate to have a 15 percent support level across five national polls to be included in the debate. No third-party presidential candidate fulfills the criterion for the 2012 election, according to Kyle Saunders, a CSU professor of political science.

Johnson has filed suits in Washington D.C. and California to try to change the debate system, and Stein and her running mate were arrested as they attempted to enter the grounds of the second presidential debate Oct. 16. These candidates as well as Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party will participate in their own debate Oct. 23 moderated by Larry King.

Besides not being included in the debates, third party candidates have difficulty overcoming legal and institutional barriers within the American two-party system, according to Saunders. Compared to major party candidates, third party candidates are not as relevant to the majority of Americans because they represent minority interests. Too few voters sympathize with those positions to sustain a legitimate candidate.

Votes for third party candidates are often “protest votes” against the two-party system, but are often “wasted” because they do not have a chance of actually voting a candidate into the presidency, according to Saunders.

Johnson said voting for third party candidates is still a viable option, because when third party candidates take stands on issues it helps make those issues politically safe ground for politicians who are not addressing them.

“I think a wasted vote is voting for somebody you don’t believe in,” Johnson said. “…Voting for the person you believe in — that’s how you change things in this country.”

Voting for third party candidates gets the attention of Republicans and Democrats who respond because they want those votes in the following election, according to Manski.


“If you vote for either of the established candidates, your vote disappears — no one will see that as a statement about anything, other than that you don’t like the other guy,” Manski said. “But if you vote for the Green Party your vote will count, you will be seen.”

It would take a well-financed third party candidate with the ability to attract moderate and weakly partisan voters to win a presidential election, according to Saunders. As it is, during close elections, third party candidates siphon off votes from one party or another and can affect the outcome of major party candidates in contested states.

In the future, Manski hopes that the system changes and that third party candidates have a viable run for office.

“American elections are hardly democratic, and we have a lot of work to do here at home,” Manski said. “…Social change is never easy. It has been very costly throughout human history to achieve, and the way in which we change the political system of bringing democracy to the U.S. is fighting for it.”

Politics Beat Reporter Kate Winkle can be reached at


Gary Johnson
Johnson was New Mexico’s governor from 1995-2003. During his term, he vetoed 750 bills and balanced the state’s budget. Johnson has a business background and formed the non-profit OUR America Initiative in 2009 to promote civil liberties, rational public policy, and fiscal responsibility.
FUN FACT: Johnson climbed Mt. Everest and completed the Hawaii Ironman multiple times.

The Economy

    • Balance the budget in 2013, give responsibilities to the private sector
    • Reform entitlement programs and limit the government’s role in the economy
    • Cut taxes, and tax expenditures instead of income


    • Local control of education; parents decide where their children attend
    • End the Department of education

Civil Liberties

    • Repeal the Patriot Act, respect habeas corpus
    • Government should be neutral on personal beliefs

Foreign Policy

    • Engage in foreign policy programs that protect U.S. interests
    • Use military action as a last-resort and bring troops home


    • Make it easier to get a temporary work visa
    • Enforce a ‘one strike, you’re out’ rule for immigrants who do not follow the work visa process

Health care

    • Repeal the Affordable Care Act
    • Have fewer government mandates, less regulation and have states take responsibility using federal block grants

Energy and the Environment

    • Government should not promote or manage energy development

Jill Stein

Dr. Jill Stein is an environmental-health advocate, and created a “Healthy People, Healthy Planet” teaching program to discuss the relationships of human health , climate security, and green economic revitalization. She co-founded the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities in 2003, and was elected to town meeting in Lexington, Mass.

FUN FACT: She published two books, In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development (2000), and Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging (2009).


The Economy

    • Progressive tax with cuts for working families, the poor and middle class, and higher taxes for rich Americans
    • Reject cuts to Medicare and Social Security
    • Enact the Full Employment Program– provide 25 million green and service jobs


    • Provide grants and loans to green businesses and cooperatives


    • Tuition-free education from kindergarten through college
    • Forgive existing student debt

Civil Liberties

    • Repeal the Patriot Act and oppose the Online Piracy Act
    • Pass the Equal Rights Amendment to end gender discrimination
    • Implement marriage equality

Foreign Policy

    • Cut Pentagon budget by 50%, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and close 140 military bases abroad
    • Emphasize human rights, international law and support democracy


    • Grant legal status to undocumented immigrants working in the U.S.
    • Stop deportation of law-abiding undocumented immigrants

Health care

    • Create an improved Medicare-for-all insurance program
    • Full access to medically justified contraceptive/reproductive care

Energy and the Environment

    • Create an international treaty to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to safe levels
    • Phase out coal power plants and nuclear power and redirect research funds from fossil fuels to renewable energy