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As US Presidential Debates Approach, One Candidate Pushes to Be Included

  • Wayne Lee

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaks during a campaign rally, Sept. 3, 2016, at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaks during a campaign rally, Sept. 3, 2016, at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

With the November 8 U.S. presidential election fast approaching, preparations are underway for the first of three televised debates featuring Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.

The presidential candidates who will participate in the first debate have not yet been announced. Although Trump and Clinton are (near) certainties, not so certain are Libertarian Party candidate and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

Candidates must meet selection criteria established by the Commission of Presidential Debates (CPD), a non-profit organization that says its mission is to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.”

The purpose of the criteria, according to the CPD, is to “identify candidates whose support among the electorate places them among the candidates who have a realistic chance of being elected” president.

The Johnson campaign has embarked on a push to be included in the debates. It has proposed a plan to the CPD that would allow him to participate in the first presidential debate by initially circumventing the selection criteria. The proposal calls for placing a third podium on stage and simply allow Johnson to take part in the debate. If Johnson does not meet the criteria for subsequent debates, the Libertarian Party would abandon efforts for continued inclusion.

With a full page advertisement in the Wednesday edition of the New York Times, Johnson has taken his proposal to a national audience, with an advertisement written in the form of a letter to the CPD.


Johnson’s advertisement follows a recent announcement that his campaign will be on the ballot in all 50 U.S. states, the only candidate outside of Clinton and Trump to make that claim.

Johnson’s quest to appear in the presidential debates appears to have broad public support. In an August 25 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 63 percent of the likely voters surveyed responded “yes” to the question: Do you think that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, should be included in the presidential debates this year, or not?

Johnson is currently polling at nine percent in the national polls, according to RealClear Politics’ national average. This compares to national averages of nearly 42 percent for Clinton and almost 40 percent for Trump.

Hundreds of people declare their candidacy for the U.S. presidency each general election period. Many of them are not associated with a major political party. To ensure orderly presidential debates, the CPD established the selection criteria to ensure participation is limited to the most viable candidates.

In order to participate, Johnson and Stein must meet the CPD’s “pre-established” and “objective” criteria, which are as follows:

  • Be constitutionally eligible;
  • Appear on enough state ballots to have a chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College; and
  • Have at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected public opinion polls.

The CPD has yet to officially announce which presidential candidates will participate in the first debate. It will make the announcement “sufficiently in advance” of the first debate to “allow for orderly planning.”

Participants in the second and third presidential debates must meet the same set of criteria.

The first debate will take place on September 26 at Hofstra University in the northeastern town of Hempstead, New York.

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