Let us imagine a country where two nearly identical political parties take turns dominating their nation’s government; where public approval of the legislative body frequently slips into the single digits; where riots, protests and demonstrations are increasingly the focus of media outlets around the globe. This nation’s two parties, fearful of any shift in public opinion, create laws, set guidelines and establish agencies with the sole purpose of ensuring their unquestioned supremacy. This state, one may well imagine, must exist somewhere in the Middle East. Does it sound like a country in Sub Saharan Africa, struggling with their transition into democracy? Perhaps it is some small, Post-Soviet state, unable to completely part ways with authoritarian habits. This country is none of these. It is, in fact, the United States.
The election of 2016 has been arguably the most chaotic, dubious and downright shocking event of American politics in recent memory. We have two candidates running with the lowest favorability ratings of any in history and yet, somehow, American voters are only going to hear these two voices on the debate stage. Surely America has produced other candidates worthy of our attention. To quote the painfully ironic title of The Twilight Zone’s premier episode: “Where is Everybody?”
Indeed, more than two candidates are running for president. At last count, three parties other than Republicans and Democrats will have their tickets appear on more than 20 state ballots come November, and one of these will appear on all 50. Libertarian Governor Gary Johnson and his running mate Governor Bill Weld are currently polling between eight and 13 percent (when they are included in polls), which represents, on the low end, some 1.2 million voters and will be on every ballot nationwide. The Libertarians have also polled upwards of 31 percent among registered independents and upwards of 36 percent in a poll of military members.
So why won’t the governors be on the debate stage? Simply because they failed to meet the Commission on Presidential Debates’ arbitrarily defined threshold of 15 percent in selected national polls. The same shortfall is true of Green Party nominee Dr. Jill Stein who has polled between two and five percent, a number which is still representative of several hundred thousand potential voters.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, which is comprised entirely of Republican and Democratic party members, has thus far shielded their two respective candidates from unwanted competition, stacking the deck against American voters who deserve to know about more than two of their options this November.
A debate featuring four or five different points of view would doubtlessly be more productive and representative of the American electorate than only two, and in a time when nearly half of all voters do not identify with either major party, the lack of intellectual diversity we have received from candidates in recent years is both unfair and insulting.
In light of the sheer disdain, vast swaths of the public have for the two leading candidates, it is imperative that the forthcoming debates be made more inclusive lest the American public begin to lose whatever faith is left in their government.