As we come closer to election day, the support for third-party candidates seems to have been shaken. According to UPI.com, support for both Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party, two of the most well-known third-party candidates, has dropped.
While polls had showed that Johnson could have garnered enough votes to shake up the election by winning New Mexico’s five Electoral College votes, this no longer seems as likely.
Instead, support for a less well-known candidate has been growing the big day gets closer. A Wall Street Journal blog post stated that Evan McMullin, running as an independent candidate, could win the state of Utah. This would be the first time an independent had won a state in a presidential election since George Wallace in 1968.
This chance that a candidate not associated with the Republican or Democratic Party could win votes from the Electoral College is a sign of hope. While it will not bring around the end of the two-party system that many of Johnson, Stein and McMullin’s supporters are hoping for, it is a step in the right direction.
But it’s no wonder that this would happen during the 2016 election. FiveThirtyEight.com reported earlier this year that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were “historically disliked.”
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, why wouldn’t Americans begin to consider a third option? This election was the perfect storm for garnering support for other candidates.
Even if a voter doesn’t completely agree with the third-party candidate they’re voting for, they’re sending a strong message against the current system by refusing to give their vote to Clinton or Trump.
Although it’s unlikely, if Johnson, Stein or McMullin manage to capture a state, it could be the direct result of the two mainstream parties refusing to provide a candidate that is moderate enough to appeal to a wide range of voters.
Most voters’ ideologies do not follow the extreme opposites that the two-party system creates. They hold beliefs that are comfortably in the middle. Both Clinton and Trump seem to exemplify the extremes of their party, a polarization that makes many voters uncomfortable and could push them to consider other options.
While it would be nice for our story to end there, with Americans voting based on their beliefs instead of on winning a contest, it doesn’t. As the recent polls have shown, the popular narrative that voting third-party is “wasting” your vote (along with other opinions that are touted as facts) has power over the final decision.
As we approach election day, have voters who were going to vote for a third-party candidate lost their zeal? Did making this brave choice seem better when the actual moment was further away?
It’s hard to know exactly what is responsible for the shift in third-party candidates’ polling numbers, but it’s a shame that this election could be yet another in the endless line of “us vs. them” politics.