Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Brief History of Third-Parties and the Question of Proportional Coverage

Leander Edmiston

When I look up Jill Stein in the New York Times archives of the last seven days I get 23 results. Many of these mentions are hidden in stories about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with headlines like “Clinton Says She Won't Go to Mexico Before Election Day.” When I look up Donald Trump in the same archive I get back over 360 results.

Despite our founding fathers advice the United States has never supported a three party system. The last independent presidential candidate to have a significant effect on the presidential election was Ross Perot in 1992, with 19 percent of the popular vote. Before him was George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama and popular segregationist who fed on racial fears; he garnered 13.5 percent of the popular vote and 46 electoral votes. The most significant third-party candidate was Teddy Roosevelt running for a third term in office. Roosevelt would amass 27.5 percent of the vote and 88 electoral votes. Those are the monuments of a relatively bare third-party history. Most third-party candidates don’t receive electoral votes, and in the last years candidates like Ralph Nader and Bob Barr have received less than one percent of the popular vote.

Average polling numbers for the four major candidates | 
Today, Green and Libertarian party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are finding popularity among a growing number of voters who are unhappy with the leading candidates. Real Clear Politics, an aggregate of national election polls found the average popularity of Johnson nearly double from 4.5 percent in June to 8.6 percent in September. But that still doesn't meet the the required 15 percent laid out by the Commision on Presidential Debates (CPD) which would get Johnson on stage with Clinton and Trump in the first presidential debate this month.

In a recent op-ed by the Guardian Jill Stein feverishly calls into question the democracy of a two-party system and the ethical implications of an election run by private corporations like the CPD, which currently refuses to publish its funders or sponsors. Stein is responding to a recent Suffolk University/USA Today poll that showed 76 percent of voters want third-party candidates who are certified on a majority of ballots, like Stein and Johnson, at the national debate. However the CPD continues to bar alternative parties and even admitted in 1987 that they support the exclusion of third parties. Stein believes that the CPD created the 15 percent rule after Jesse Ventura narrowly won the governorship in Minnesota after polling 10 percent in 1998. Stein believes the 15 percent rules serves as an artificial barrier to stop any future upsets like Ventura’s.

If we’re to examine the third party's relationship with the media then it’s important we understand its history and standing among the American public. The Media and the CPD, which are closely linked, are ignoring 76 percent of voters who want a multi-partied election, the kind of election we haven’t seen in decades. Gary Johnson is polling at 8.4 percent, but when I look him up in the Wall Street Journal archives fewer than ten articles have mentioned him in the last seven days. The Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog, recently examined 1,713 stories about the 2016 election that ABC, CBS and NBC aired on their evening newscasts. The study found that Trump received 1,773 minutes of coverage, and Clinton received 1,020 minutes. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein received less than a minute of coverage - .03 percent of airtime.
If the mass media truly represents the political landscape then, in theory, shouldn’t political coverage of a candidate be proportional to their popularity with voters? Shouldn't the polls and coverage have some sort of correlation? Right now they don’t, but taking steps like The Guardian, and providing a platform for candidates like Jill Stein is the right way forward. If the mass media continues to refuse and misrepresent the public then we must begin popularizing alternative resources. So the next time you check the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or even The Guardian pull up an independent new source like Common Dreams or The Blaze, who consistently feature third-party candidates alongside major candidates on its front page.

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