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Polls: Voters want third parties in presidential debates

Polls conducted by Morning Consult and USA TODAY released this week found voters want to see third-party candidates on the debate stage.

<p>Party nominees (from left): Hillary Clinton (Democratic Party), Donald Trump (Republican Party, Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party), Jill Stein (Green Party).</p>

While presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump continue to dominate the headlines, their unfavorable ratings continue to climb and at least two new polls show voters craving another option on Election Day.

A poll by nonpartisan firm Morning Consult found 52 percent of voters polled think Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson should be included in the upcoming presidential debates. Twenty-two percent of those polled believed Johnson should not be included while 26 percent did not know or had no opinion.

The poll also found 47 percent of voters believe Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein should be included. Those who did not believe Stein should be included or did not know/had no opinion were split with 26 and 27 percent, respectively.

In a separate poll conducted by USA TODAY and Suffolk University, 76 percent of likely voters polled believe a third-party candidate should be included in the debates if they are certified by a majority of state ballots. Seventeen percent were against the notion and the remaining seven percent were undecided or declined to answer.

While third-party candidates did well in the polls, neither candidate has performed well in national polls. RealClearPolitics shows Johnson and Stein polling at an average of 7.8 and 3.1 percent, respectively, in four-way polls conducted between Aug. 22 and Sept. 1. Three-way polls that only include Johnson have him averaging at 8.2 percent over the same period.

The Commission on Presidential Debates states in their requirements that a candidate must have a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate to be included in debates. Examining four-way polls conducted since June, Stein topped out at seven percent in a June 16-19 CNN/ORC poll, and has been polling in the mid-single digits the last three months. Johnson has polled in the double digits more than a dozen times, including 12 percent in an IBD/TIPP poll conducted in late August. His high water mark came in a July 13-16 CNN/ORC poll at 13 percent.

The Commission for Presidential Debates announced in mid-August the following national polls will be used to determine who will be included in the debates:

  • ABC/Washington Post
  • CBS/New York Times
  • Fox News
  • NBC/Wall Street Journal

Johnson’s highest poll numbers in the five polls listed were at 11 percent in an Aug. 22-28 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. For Stein, she polled at 6 percent in two NBC/WSJ polls conducted in June and July. The most recent poll shows her at 5 percent.

The CPD also requires “that the candidate qualify to have his/her name appear on enough state ballots to have at least a mathematical chance of securing an Electoral College majority in the 2016 general election.” Stein’s campaign states her ticket with activist Ajamu Baraka is on the ballot in 40 states and Washington, D.C. The Libertarian Party states their ticket of Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico, and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is on the ballot in 47 states and D.C.

Johnson told Fox News on Aug. 28 that it’s “game over” on his campaign if he and Weld do not make the debates, but both men on the ticket have said they are optimistic they will be on the debate stage.

The CPD has scheduled three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. The first presidential debate will be held Monday, Sept. 26 at Hofstra University and moderated by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt. Go here for the full list of debates and moderators from ABC News.

Morning Consult said their poll was conducted Aug. 29-30 with 2,002 registered voters, and a two percent margin of error. The USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll was conducted Aug. 24-29 with 1,000 likely voters, and had a three percent margin of error. Both polls were conducted on a national scale.

The last third-party candidate to appear in a presidential debate was Ross Perot in 1992, who was running as an independent. Perot secured 19 percent of the vote in that election, but no electoral votes.

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