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Third Party Presidential Debates

.. r other party candidates. The Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate is Harry Brown and their vice presidential candidate Jo Jorgenson (Hall,7A). They are on the ballot in 50 states (Hall,7A). In 1992 this parties candidates received less than 1% of the vote (Hall,7A).

The Natural Law Party’s candidates include John Hagelin and Mike Tompkins (Hall,7A). They are on the ballots in 45 states (Hall,7A). In 1992 they received less than 50,000 votes(Hall,7A). The Taxpayers Party’s candidates are Howard Phillips and Herbert Titus (Hall,7A). They are on the ballots in 39 states, and like the Natural Law Party received less than 50,000 votes in 1992 (Hall,7A).

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Finally the Green Party’s candidates are Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke (Hall,7A). They are on the ballots in 22 states and did not have a candidate in 1992 (Hall,7A). Can you see where each of these parties fail to meet the criteria set up by the Commission on Presidential debates? In the 1992 debates H. Ross Perot emerged as a strong third party candidate. Let us compare him with the other third party candidates.

His party name is the Reform Party. His running mate is Pat Choate. They are on the ballot in 50 states (Hall,7A). In 1992 the Reform Party did not exist but Perot ran as an independent and collected 20 million votes or 19% of the total (Hall,7A). In comparison only the Libertarian Party is also on the ballots in 50 states a close second being the Natural Law Party in 45 states.

As far as total votes received none of the parties came close to duplicating Perot’s totals. So what happened to Perot and the Reform Party in 1996? Why were they excluded from the presidential debates? What is the difference between 1996 debates and the 1992 debates in which he was included? These are questions that have been answered by the Advisory Board to the Commission on Presidential Debate. First we need to look at what Perot was doing in 1992. A monopoly has been held on the American presidency by the Democratic and Republican parties since 1860 (Black, ). Racial discord, economic distress and ideology has given rise to third parties and caused the major parties to deal with touchy issues such as slavery and women voting (Black, ). In 1992 the economy was the issue (Black, ).

Perot as a billionaire business man gained credibility when he taunted the two major parties on their unwillingness to address the dangers of the budget deficit, national debt and the trade imbalance (Black, ). Third parties do best at times of discontent with the major parties and when headed by a well-known person (Black, ). Perot at first was not known to many but he used television to his advantage to become a household name (Black, ). That coupled with the disgust of the voters with the Democrat and Republican gridlock in Washington propelled Perot into serious contention (Black, ). At one point Perot was given 40% of the vote in polls (Judis, ).

Was that the only reason Perot was included in the debates? No. The Bush campaign had insisted that Perot be included in the debates (Black, ). Bush was trailing in the polls and the campaign strategist needed to do something dramatic to change the race (Black, ). So in their debate negotiations with the Clinton campaign they insisted Perot be included reasoning that a one-on-one challenge between Bush and Clinton was not to Bush’s advantage (Black, ). So the tables were set. We know the results of the election. Clinton won and Perot received 19% of the vote.

So what is the difference for Perot in 1996? Interestingly enough is the fact that the Republican campaign does not want Perot included in the debates believing Perot will only draw votes away from Dole (Debenport, 8B). That might bring up speculation as to whether or not the major debating parties actually control who participates in the debates. In actuality however the Commission on Presidential Debates convened an advisory board to determine Perot’s participation. A letter from the Advisory Board to the Commission on Presidential Debates to the Co-Chairmen of the Commission on Presidential Debates gives us the boards determination as to Perot’s exclusion from the debates. It stated that they reviewed the data that was assembled for them, and conducted independent telephonic inquiries of their own political scientists and political journalists across the country (Neustadt, ). Based on this information they concluded that Perot , at this point of the campaign has no realistic chance of being elected (Neustadt, ).

They went on to say that they took into consideration his previous run for the presidency but that his chance in the House of Representatives was incalculable (Neustadt, ). This letter was dated September 17, 1996. Perot took his exclusion to court to demand he be included in the debates. His lawyers contend that if he can not participate in the debates and get exposure that he can not be competitive and therefor would not have a realistic chance to win a majority of votes (Stall,13A). The results of his hearing were to uphold the Commissions decision.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan heard two hours of legal argument after which he said that he lacked legal authority to tell the Federal Election Committee and the Presidential Debate Commission to include Perot or any other third party candidate. (Jackson,16A) Judge Thomas also went on to say that the candidates could pursue their complaints with the Federal Election Committee but the commission is not required to resolve the complaint before the election (Jackson,16A). Hogan also endorsed the committee’s point that it is not a constitutional right for anyone to be included in the debates, that Congress established the rules governing presidential elections and that is something the courts do not interfere with (Jackson,16A).

On October 4,1996 a federal appeals court rejected Perot’s attempt to sue his way into the debates upholding the district court’s decision thus dismissing the lawsuit and ending Perot’s attempt to participate in the debates (Xinhua, ). Perot’s campaign coordinator Russ Verney said, “We will take this to the American people and on election day they will have the opportunity to rectify it” (Xinhua, ). Government has made a ruling on this situation, but are not the debates for the people. So what do the people have to say about this? The Los Angeles Times conducted a poll of their readers asking if they thought Perot should be included in the debates. By a 3-to-1 ratio they supported including Perot in the debates (Pool,2B). Some of the comments in favor of Perot include, “I feel that all candidates should be included in the debate or else its not a debate, not a true democracy.” and ” The two party system is afraid of the topics he is going to bring up, not of him personally, but of the topics he is going to bring up” (Pool,2B).

Of course the opinions of those who did not think he should be included were also there. Is it up to the people to decide who they hear debate or is it better to have a commission weed out those who’s chance of being elected is dim? Thus we the people can focus on the two primary candidates without having to keep track of comments from a candidate bound to failure. Or would a third party candidate allow us to decipher, compare and contrast what the two major party candidates have to say about the issues? I guess we will never know until those third party candidates are permitted without restriction to debate the big guns. Government.


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