As the two major U.S. political parties prepare to nominate presidential candidates whom a significant portion of the electorate despises, it’s important to remember that there will be other choices on the November ballot.
Surveys show that a majority of American voters hold a negative view of both Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. That leaves a wide open window for third-party prospects, particularly Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
Mr. Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, will be on the ballot in all 50 states. Ms. Stein, a Massachusetts physician, will be an option for voters in at least 35 states, including Nevada. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that either could have an influence on the outcome of the national election.
The poll found that Ms. Clinton led Mr. Trump 46-41 with 13 percent undecided in a two-person race. But when the two minor-party candidates were available as choices, the tally fell 39 percent for Ms. Clinton, 38 percent for Mr. Trump, 10 percent for Mr. Johnson, 7 percent undecided and 6 percent for Ms. Stein.
And things may get even more interesting between now and the election, particularly when it comes to the debates, traditionally the exclusive domain of major party presidential and vice presidential candidates.
The Commission on Presidential Debates is a consortium of Democratic and Republican interests that sets the eligibility standards for participation in those contests. It’s no surprise that the commission has a vested interest in excluding third-party candidates.
To qualify, the commission demands that a candidate make the ballot in a certain number of states and also hit 15 percent in five national surveys. H. Ross Perot was the last third-party hopeful to make the stage, in 1992.
No doubt to the chagrin of the political establishment, Mr. Johnson now nears the 15 percent threshold. Yet many major polling services still don’t include him or Ms. Stein in their polling questions, making it almost impossible for him to meet the debate requirements.
In May, The Hill reported that Johnson is “pushing hard for pollsters to include his name, but … [has] met resistance from several outlets that have told him he’s not well-known enough.” That’s ridiculous — and self-fulfilling — especially given the dissatisfaction so many voters have expressed with both Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton.
Ironically, though, the Democrats and Republicans may have accidentally paved the way for minor-party candidates to crash their debate party by offering too many voters a choice they’d rather not make.