Two-Thirds of American Voters Want Gary Johnson at Debates

One recent poll shows most surveyed voters want the Libertarian candidate on the presidential debate stage.

Published Aug 29, 2016

A popular social media image reflects the claim that 62% of Americans voters want third-party candidate Gary Johnson to participate in the upcoming presidential debates against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump.

The 62% figure comes from a 25 August 2016 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University. In the telephone survey, pollsters asked likely voters, "Do you think that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, should be included in the presidential debates this year, or not?"

A total of 62% of respondents answered yes. Methodology for the university-funded poll is described here.

While it is true that a sizable majority of "likely voters" questioned in the Quinnipiac poll indicated they want to see Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, participate in the debates scheduled for September 26, October 4, October 9 and October 19 of 2016, that doesn't necessarily mean they've decided they're going to (or likely to) vote for him. A total of 68% of subjects who responded said they haven't heard enough about him to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion.

The poll also showed Clinton leading Trump among most demographics in the "battle of the unloved presidential candidates":

In the battle of the unloved presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton tops the magical 50 percent mark among American likely voters, leading Republican Donald Trump 51-41 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University National poll.

When third party candidates are added to the mix, Clinton gets 45 percent with Trump at 38 percent, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson at 10 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 4 percent, the independent Quinnipiac University Poll finds.

The presidential debates are run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which describes itself as a private, non-profit organization. The invitation of third party candidate to participate has long been a source of contention. The Commission requires that participating candidates demonstrate at least 15% registered voter support, as determined by five selected national polls:

Under the 2016 Criteria, in addition to being Constitutionally eligible, candidates must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College, and have a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recently publicly-reported results at the time of the determination.

That limitation has been the source of multiple lawsuits, but no candidate has successfully challenged it. In August 2016, Johnson and his Green Party counterpart, Jill Stein, lost yet another lawsuit asserting that leaving them out of the presidential debates was a violation of their rights. The last time a third-party candidate was allowed to participate in the national debates was in 1992, when businessman Ross Perot took the stage with George Bush and Bill Clinton as an independent candidate.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.