News Release

76 Percent Want Independents in Debates


DAVID PALEOLOGOS, dpaleologos[at], @davidpaleologos
Paleologos is director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. He just wrote the USA Today piece “Voters Want Third-Party Candidates on Debate Stage,” about the results from the latest Suffolk University/USA Today national poll.

Paleologos notes a disappointment among voters, “76 percent of whom believe that third-party candidates like [Libertarian Gary] Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein should be able to share the stage with Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump this fall. …

“Nationally, there is a voter appetite this year for something not found in the major parties. This makes sense given that both Clinton and Trump have extraordinarily high unfavorable ratings (Trump 59 percent and Clinton 51 percent). Neither Clinton nor Trump are seen as trustworthy and honest, according to the poll, (Trump 61 percent untrustworthy and Clinton 59 percent untrustworthy). … [See by Susan Page, front page USA Today piece “Poll: Fear, Not Excitement, Driving Clinton and Trump Supporters.”]

“Because of this distaste for Clinton and Trump, the voting public is clamoring for serious third-party candidates to be part of the nationally televised debates. But as it stands, they won’t and therefore Stein and Johnson’s poll numbers will stay low or dissipate.”

“The lack of even adequate or equal press coverage already has hurt both Johnson and Stein. …”

Background: In the past, when some suggested having independent candidates in the debates, the Commission on Presidential Debates (a creation of the Democratic and Republican parties) dismissed asking the public who they want in the debates. Paul Kirk, the then-co-chair of the CPD (now co-chairman emeritus) and former head of the Democratic National Committee, said: “It’s a matter of entertainment vs. the serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States.” But the polls the Commission relies on for its 15 percent criteria don’t actually ask the “serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States” — they ask some variation of “if the election were held today, who would you vote for.”

Sam Husseini in “How Presidential ‘Non-Opinion’ Polls Drive Down Third Party Numbers and Facilitate Debate Exclusion” argues that this effectively drives down the numbers for independent candidates, since many may prefer Johnson or Stein, but feel compelled to be voting for either Trump or Clinton to stop the other. Husseini writes: “But public opinion polling should be a relief from that. Such polling should find out what the public thinks or wants — especially if the electoral system doesn’t allow for those choices. But that’s not what’s happening. The ‘tracking’ poll question that’s being used over and over and obsessed over by all these organizations is actually disguising public opinion. And then the CPD, acting on behalf of the two major parties, is using that to exclude third party candidates from the debates, further marginalizing any public thinking that questions the establishment parties.”

Also see No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates by George Farah.