With U.S. voters continuing to hold unfavorable views of the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, parties outside the two that dominate the country's politics are getting rare national exposure.
The last president who was not either a Democrat or Republican left office in 1853, and while many different parties field candidates each election, few ever get any real support. Some of that has to do with systemic hurdles that keep those candidates from getting their message to a large enough number of voters.
CNN Town Hall
But on Tuesday, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld appeared on a CNN town hall for the second time during this year's campaign, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein and her choice for vice president Ajamu Baraka will get their chance on August 17.
Johnson and Stein were the most successful third party candidates in the 2012 election, but even their third and fourth place finishes were not in the same league as Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney. Obama got 66 million votes to beat Romney's 61 million, while Johnson had 1.2 million and Stein about 500,000.
Gaining in Polls
Just after the Democratic and Republican conventions in 2012, polls showed 4 percent of voters supporting Johnson and 2 percent supporting Stein. Polls during the past week show each has double that level of support right now.
The candidates need to do even better to reach the 15 percent support needed to be allowed in the three planned presidential debates. They also need to convince voters that choosing them is not wasting a vote on a candidate who cannot win.
"There’s no chance of winning without being in the presidential debates, and I base that too on last week a projection that the first presidential debate is going to garner more audience than the Super Bowl," Johnson said Wednesday. "So our really our strategy is to win this thing outright, and some extraordinary things have to happen, but has there ever been a more extraordinary political year in our lives?”
Wasting a vote?
Weld said he has no problem with people wasting a vote, though he had a different outlook on what that would mean.
"If we get in the debates we’re going to win this whole thing," he said. "If you want to waste your vote on Trump or Clinton, be our guest.”
Another challenge the smaller parties face is the massive disparity in fundraising between them and the major parties. But Weld said Wednesday politics has entered a new era.
“When you get further down the election cycle it’s not like the old days where if somebody had a two-to-one edge in their campaign account that they were going to win the election on that account," he said. "Not with the free publicity from the debates and the fact that campaigns can move 10 points in the polls based on something going viral on the web.”
Johnson predicted their fundraising will make a significant jump, while also characterizing their more frugal campaign as an example of how they would govern.
"We'd do the same thing in office, providing the best bang for the buck," Johnson said.
Weld said their administration would work in a much less partisan fashion that would be "refreshing" and include bringing in the best staff regardless of party affiliation.
Libertarians can be seen as a kind of mashup of typical Democratic and Republican policies, more liberal on social issues like the Democrats and more fiscally conservative like the Republicans.
"We want the government out of your pocketbook and out of your bedroom, and I tell you the polling shows a majority of Americans think that," Weld said.
Different kind of Foreign Policy
Johnson described a foreign policy that would work to protect the United States from terrorism, but not support the type of regime change abroad that he said has led to "unintended consequences of making things worse."
He also advocated the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, saying that should have happened within the first year of the war and that any consequences of leaving that exist now would still be there if the decision were to be made 20 years from now.
Republican candidate Donald Trump is campaigning under the slogan "Make America Great Again," something that many Democratic leaders countered in speeches at their convention saying the country is already great.
Johnson said that despite some challenges that need to be addressed, "I don't think life in America has ever been better."
That is not to say he agrees with the rest of what the Democrats put forth. Johnson said Clinton made promises to everyone in her convention speech and that her policies will lead to a growing government and significant tax hikes.