Three’s a crowd? More challenges ahead for third party candidates in the American general elections

Hira Rahman, Nick Yang - 1A Nano, 1A Math
Posted on: September 24, 2016

As many Americans describe the 2016 American election as a choice between the lesser of two evils, it is unsurprising to see support for third party candidates soaring. In fact, national polls show that 44% of registered voters would like a third party candidate to run against Trump and Clinton in the general elections. Both Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party are polling significantly higher than third party candidates have in the past, at 8.4% and 2.7% respectively.

Despite this surge in support for non-establishment parties, the American political system heavily disapproves of and discourages their participation in elections, which is why neither Stein nor Johnson will be included in any national debates unless they poll at least 15% nationally. Unfortunately for them, exclusion from debates will limit their ability to establish a brand and pick up voters. To make matters worse, it is extremely difficult for third parties to be included on state ballots, due to overly complex and confusing registration laws. As a result, while Gary Johnson will appear on all state ballots, Jill Stein will not be included on ballots in six states.

Most opposition to third parties comes from the establishment, because third parties take power away from the Republican and Democratic parties. They have the ability to steal voters from one party, thereby “splitting the vote”. For instance, this is a major concern for the Democratic Party this election, since the Green Party has been picking up many of the coveted Sanders supporters.

If there is one thing to be learned from the 2016 elections, it is that the American political system excels at silencing the voices of opposition. While it is a huge stretch to say that the presidency will go to Stein or Johnson, their popularity should be an indication to the establishment that the American public isn’t exactly satisfied with the way things are going.

August 31: Trump’s Mexico Visit 

On August 31, 2016, Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, made a surprise trip to Mexico after receiving an invitation from the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Trump’s visit came as a huge surprise, considering the fact that he has insulted Mexicans on many occasions. Everyone knows of his infamous plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, and many have not forgotten that Trump started off his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, and later labeling Mexico as an American enemy.

Naturally, the Mexican people were not happy, and many took to Twitter to express their disapproval. President Pena, whose approval ratings are already quite low at 22%, faced a lot of scrutiny from the public due to his actions. His motivation for extending an invitation to possibly the most hated man among Mexicans is unclear, but what is certain is that Pena took a massive political risk hosting Trump and it is unlikely that this will help his likability among his constituents.

Pena is not the only one lacking public support: as Trump’s poll numbers fall, it is evident that he was using his trip to Mexico as an opportunity to pick up votes by establishing a more presidential brand. Unfortunately for him, he will likely need more than a photo-op with the Mexican president to win the presidency. While fear-mongering, personal attacks, and general controversial behaviour may have helped Trump get votes during the primaries, that strategy is not likely to work in the general election. What Trump needs is votes from various minority groups because, unfortunately for him, the American society is not comprised entirely of white males. Unfortunately, his entire campaign has been tainted by sexism, racism, and xenophobia.

Sept 9th: Clinton’s “Deplorables”

At a New York City fundraiser, Hillary Clinton, in what many claim to be the biggest political blunder of the campaign season, said: “To just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it, and unfortunately there are people like that, and he has lifted them up.”

The Trump campaign quickly moved to exploit this, calling Hillary insulting and bigoted towards hardworking Americans. Although Clinton later apologized for the statement, Trump supporters have already taken readily to the name as a badge of honour against a world that they believe to be against them. It has been used as the primary ammo in political attack ads.

Clinton has drawn a great deal of hostility with this remark. While Clinton’s campaign was unlikely to appeal to the right-wing demographic, her comments completely alienated them in a way that actually increased their support for Trump. But unlike Trump, her campaign does not have the ability to escape comments like this easily. This incident occurring in such a short timeframe with other disasters is a significant reason for Clinton’s losses this month.

Sept 11th: The Clinton Collapse and Trump’s Response

Hilary Clinton collapsed at ground zero during a 9/11 memorial service in Manhattan while being escorted into her car. Spokespeople for Clinton claimed that heat stroke was the reason for her collapse (during 28 degree weather). This comes just six days after she had a two-minute coughing fit during a Cleveland rally, causing many to seriously question her physical capability for presidency. Trump offered his condolences to Clinton, first on Twitter then during an interview on Fox & Friends, saying: “I just hope she gets well and gets back on the trail, and we’ll be seeing her at the debate.”

Trump’s response is a move that some believe to be a strategy to gain positive recognition, while subtly calling Clinton’s health into question. Further milking this, Trump’s campaign publicly announced he would release his health records on Twitter, urging Clinton to do the same. Clinton’s campaign, further spurred by this and mounting public distrust, released a report that Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia three days prior to the incident. In other words, her diagnosis was kept secret from the public until recently.

This is a massive hit for Clinton’s campaign. The delayed reporting of her health records and her staff’s response to her collapse have further deepened the numerous trust issues the public has with her. Trump’s campaign capitalizing on it in political attack ads have likely worsened Clinton’s losses this month among the population of undecideds.

September 19th: Trump Jr.’s Skittles

Donald Trump Jr.’s twitter released an image containing a bowl of Skittles with the text: “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”

Unsurprisingly, the comment caused outrage among many who labeled it as grossly generic and incorrect, some linking it to white supremacy memes involving teenager Trayvon Martin who was shot while buying Skittles in 2012. This comes after Trump Jr.’s Instagram post containing the popular 4chan meme pepe the frog. Trump Jr., who was unaware of the possible connotations, also made a potentially anti-Semitic comment about “warming up the gas chamber” on air at a Philadelphia radio station earlier in the month, which was later cited as a reference to capital punishment.

Clinton campaign and supporters quickly used this opportunity to attack his public character, although considering the general controversy that often surrounds the Trump campaign, it may have failed to deliver the desired impact.

The bottom line is that Trump Jr. is arguably more politically incorrect than his father. This is likely a strategy to maintain support from already franchised voters while his father moves to appeal to a wider audience during the debates. Luckily for the Trumps, their behaviour is typical and almost expected, meaning that even Clinton’s campaign backlash will have very little effect on her approval; if there were any Trump supporters concerned about political correctness they would have switched sides during the first month.

September 20th: He’s with Her

George H. W. Bush will be voting for Hillary Clinton in the general elections.

You don’t need to be knee deep in politics to know that when a former Republican president says that he plans to vote for the current Democratic nominee, it’s kind of a big deal. According to Kathleen Hartington Kennedy, the former Maryland Lieutenant Governor, George H. W. Bush, the 41st president, plans to vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming elections. Although Bush did not make an official endorsement, Kennedy posted a photo on Facebook with the caption “The president told me he was voting for Hillary!”

While this may come as a surprise to many people, Bush’s support for Clinton is understandable and expected. Believe it or not, Hillary Clinton and George H. W. Bush are more alike ideologically than one might imagine. Clinton may have boasted about being “progressive” in the primaries, but her record and her current strategy to win votes shows otherwise. Let’s look at the recent evidence: she chose Tim Caine, a conservative Democrat, as her running mate; she collects massive sums of money from corporations; and she boasted about her foreign policy being more “muscular” than Sanders’ during the primaries. So does it really come as a surprise that Bush, a moderate Republican, supports Clinton, a conservative Democrat? I don’t think so.

Then, of course, we can’t forget the fact that the Republican nominee for president is a reality television star who has no political experience and has made numerous statements that many Americans have found offensive. At this point, many prominent Republicans are distancing themselves from Donald Trump. He has deeply divided the Republican party and incited worldwide criticism.

September Summary

It was arguably the Clinton campaign’s worst month ever, having to face health accusations, recovery from illness, and recovery from one of the biggest gaffes of her campaign. However, this has not necessarily translated to a huge loss on the polls. But Clinton did drop across most polls, with a 3 to 1 percent lead against Trump. It demonstrates that most of Clinton’s supporters are decided enough to stay, or at the very least not attracted by the prospects of the Trump campaign.

Trump, having generally lost voters this month, will need to rally his campaign to become more appealing to the undecideds as he takes on Clinton during Monday’s debate.  Or perhaps not. The current polls are outdated, likely skewed towards tech savvy demographics, and only survey around a thousand people. Plus, who knows what could happen in October? Global events like a stock market rally, Snowden’s new leak, and ISIL are still potential agitators for both campaigns. But, as things are going, the current consensus calls for a Clinton victory in the horizon.