American voters really don’t like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll suggests that 51% and 63% of registered voters have an unfavorable view of Clinton and Trump, respectively, making it difficult to imagine any one positive thing that would significantly improve either’s standing before election day. And following the release of Trump’s lewd and concerning remarks against women from 2005 and the constant spread of Wikileaks emails nipping at Clinton’s trustworthiness, it’s easy to envision those numbers getting even worse. But of course, these are our primary options. To the lesser of two evils win the spoils… and, assuming people’s dissatisfaction remains, a one-term presidency with little positive impact.
According to a new Gallup poll, 57 percent of Americans think a theoretical third option is necessary as Democrats and Republicans alone can’t seem to put aside their squabbles to move the country forward, but it’s been hard for voters to codify behind an “Independent” candidate. Sure, the desire is there and an intense curiosity in those candidates and the movements that they have inspired exists, but recent history is littered with the bones of quixotic campaigns that have failed to convert that interest into an actual impact at the polls.
This time around, it’s Green Party candidate Jill Stein (who is polling below the margin of error) and Libertarian Gary Johnson (who has 8% support in the NBC/WSJ poll), who are both no stranger to the seemingly fruitless nature of David vs. Goliath and Other Goliath battling having both run for the Presidency in 2012 as well. Prior to them, Ralph Nader was the nation’s third-party poster-child, but after he was (rightly or wrongly) tagged as a “spoiler” following the 2000 election with many Democrats arguing that he ruined then-candidate Al Gore’s chances in Florida (and thus, the electoral college), Nader’s supporters failed to show up in full force during his subsequent runs for the White House in 2004 and 2008.
Understanding the impact of the 2000 election helps to partially explain the view of third party candidates as lost causes who must be considered and discussed only for their impact on other campaigns, but third-party politics has a much longer, far more successful track record. And when you add that to the growing discontentment regarding the two-party system, you start to wonder if it’s a question of when and not if America will find a third-party candidate with a real shot at winning a Presidential election. And then you start to wonder how we’ll get to that point.