The Libertarian Party is in Orlando this weekend, deciding who will get its nod for Presidential nominee. And this year, the convention has bigger implications for the general election than it has in other cycles.
University of South Florida Political Science Professor Susan MacManus says “The polls are showing that so many people do not like Hillary Clinton or the Republican Donald Trump, and they don’t like either the Democrats or the Republicans.”
MacManus says the fastest growing group in the U.S. is those who don’t identify with either major party. A 2015 Gallup poll says 60 percent of Americans want to see a major third party, and this year is the closest they are to getting that since Ross Perot’s 1992 Independent campaign. Presidential hopeful Gary Johnson, who received the Libertarian nomination in 2012, is currently polling at 11 percent with Monmouth University.
According to the same poll, Republican Donald Trump is at 34 percent and likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is at 42. Still, an 11 percent national showing is a major achievement considering the lack of attention that minor parties receive. MacManus says a strong Libertarian candidate could potentially hurt either party, but would likely attract more Republicans and those who would not otherwise vote.
“Libertarians do lean a little more conservative, but they also historically have attracted a lot of people who regard themselves as more independent-minded people who do not like either the Democrats or the Republicans and haven’t for some time,” says MacManus.
If Johnson can maintain or grow his support, he may be able to participate in debates. The Commission on Presidential Debate’s rules require minor party candidates to get an average of 15 percent in 5 polls of their choosing. That’s something that’s often hurt such parties in the past. Nicholas Sarwark, Chair of the Libertarian Party Committee, says the polling requirement is a Catch-22.
“Whenever people aren’t told about the choices they have in the political arena by news media, it helps entrench the major parties," says Sarwark.
When minor parties receive little coverage, they don’t appear in all political polls as an option. And because minor candidates seem to poll poorly, Sarwark says media feels no need to cover them.
Sarwark says “Every single American will be able to vote for a Libertarian candidate, and it shouldn’t matter what percentage you get in the national polls that are held way before the election to determine whether or not your voice can be heard in the debates."
Whomever they choose as their representative, Libertarians are set to be the only alternative party option on all 50 states’ ballots.