Not feeling Clinton or Trump? Third-party candidates vie for support

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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might dominate the headlines and receive most of the attention, but voters in most states will have more than just the two major party nominees to choose from in November.

With both candidates boasting some of the worst favorability ratings in the history of modern politics, third-party candidates are seeing an opportunity.

This election is the second go-around for Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green nominee Jill Stein, who both rain in 2012. Evan McMullin, a former Republican congressional aide, announced his candidacy last week.

While historically the odds are slim to none for a third-party presidential victory, that doesn't mean candidates haven't shaken up previous elections, and there's potential it could happen again.

John Clark, political expert with Western Michigan University, says the possibility for third-party candidates to significantly siphon votes from the major nominees is made greater by Trump's and Clinton's low favorability ratings.

“We’ve got major party candidates who have very high negatives, people don’t like them," Clark said. "That creates an opportunity for minor party candidates to play more of a role.”

Currently, Trump is seen as unfavorably by 61 percent of voters compared to 53 percent of voters who view Clinton unfavorably, according to a Real Clear Politics average.

Not since 1992 has a minor party candidate nabbed a decent chunk of votes, when Ross Perot garnered around 20 percent nationally, Clark said.

But this year, Clark argues minor party candidates will instead serve as "spoilers," which he said is best exemplified by Ralph Nader's 2000 candidacy.

“He got maybe four percent of the vote in Florida, but that was a state that was divided by less than 1,000 votes between the major party candidates George Bush and Al Gore," Clark said. "In years that are close it doesn’t take very many votes to necessarily tip the ballot.”

When it comes to potentially landing on the debate stage, Clark argues a situation like that is when a third-party candidate can have the biggest impact, not necessarily by influencing the short term election outcome but by shaping long term policy priorities.

“Minority parties might not expect to win but they very much want to shape the agenda," he said. “If you’re a major party candidate and you have minor party candidates on the debate stage with you, they’re going to want to talk about those issues you don’t want to talk about. That’s the reason they get traction to begin with."

But before either minor party candidate can make it to the debate stage, they must have at least a 15 percent average in selected national polls, according to guidelines established by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The commission announced Monday it will use five polls to determine which candidates make the cut:

  • ABC News/The Washington Post
  • CBS News/The New York Times
  • CNN-Opinion Research Corp.
  • Fox News
  • NBC News/The Wall Street Journal.
Real Clear Politics average

Real Clear Politics average

In the latest national average of the four-candidate race from Real Clear Politics, Clinton remains at 43 percent, Trump at 37 percent, while Johnson had 8 percent and Stein has 3 percent.

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