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WATCH: It’s Time to End Two-Party Duopoly over Presidential Debates

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Peter Ackerman, chairman of the group Level the Playing Field, an organization that is challenging the current duopolistic structure of presidential debates, recently discussed his lawsuit against the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) on C-SPAN.

With the growing desire among Americans to see a viable third option in presidential elections, Ackerman argues that the CPD makes it impossible for non-major party candidates to compete, which denies voters the alternative choice that poll after poll shows they want.

“[I]f a candidate is known to be in the debates with 6 months to go … that candidate would have a glide path to name recognition that will allow them to compete versus the Democrats and Republicans. Without that glide path, the current rule, which you have to have a hurdle of 15 percent with 7 weeks to go, comes too late in the cycle to create the name recognition needed to compete,” Ackerman said.

The way our system works, if you are not known to be in the debates or have the prospect of being in the debates, you're not considered legitimate by the media.

“The beauty of this effort is that there is just one simple rule that needs to be changed that can fundamentally change the way we view our politics in this country,” he added.

Ackerman is referring to the rule that requires candidates to poll at 15% or higher in national polls ahead of the debates, which is impossible if a candidate has not been given the opportunity and time (e.g. more than 7 weeks before Election Day) to establish name recognition.

“The way our system works, if you are not known to be in the debates or have the prospect of being in the debates, you’re not considered legitimate by the media, you won’t be covered by the media, and therefore you have no way to get name recognition, unless you buy it through your own advertising,” Ackerman explained.

He said studies have shown that the price tag on the amount of exposure a candidate gets by participating in the Republican or Democratic debates equates to about $260 million, “which is prohibitive.” Ackerman said this tall hurdle keeps hundreds of potential third party and independent candidates on the sidelines.

“It is more important to me to get these rules right and to open the process to amazing Americans who could run, but refuse to be affiliated with either party, refuse to create a loyalty oath to either party, but who will not run because they can’t compete under these rules.”

A few stats and facts to consider:

  • Since the CPD took over presidential debates in 1987, Ross Perot is the only independent candidate to appear on the main debate stage — polling at 8 percent ahead of the debates in 1992. Ackerman noted that someone who essentially got 19 percent of the popular vote would not be included in the debates under the current 15% rule, which was established in 2000.
  • Ackerman cited a Pew study that revealed 66% of Americans don’t believe our elected leaders are legitimate.
  • The predecessor to Level the Playing Field, Americans Elect, found that 70% of Americans asked during a petition drive (covering 41 states) if they wanted to see someone on the ballot other than a Republican or Democrat said they would.
  • Further survey results show that 81% of respondents would like to see a third candidate competing in every election.
  • 76% of survey respondents believe that the only way to break partisan gridlock is to have independents in power.
  • In the current cycle, 62% of survey respondents are prepared to vote for an independent if they have the chance to get to know that independent.

Ackerman answered questions and addressed comments from Republicans, Democrats, and third party and independent callers. Watch the full video above to hear his responses and to learn more about Level the Playing Field and this movement.

Join the discussion Please be relevant and respectful.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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400 comments
Sharon Bowles
Sharon Bowles

For a good number of years I have said get rid of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Take the top 25 intelligent honest people interested in being our president and give each X campaign dollars (much less than what is spent now); narrow the field down to 5, after allowing each to tell us what they have accomplished, what they believe in, what would improve USA and keep us safe, what they would like to accomplish, and how they plan to do it. When their campaign funds run out they cannot campaign any longer. This will show us how they will treat all the funds in the government. When the field is down to 5 we should all be able to vote--IF legal citizen, IF you show proper ID. After this we would not have dishonest persons running our country. Amend the "salary for life" for certain officials. Do we get salary for life-NO so why should they?

Sue Sorek Polsgrove
Sue Sorek Polsgrove

Independent, Progressive, Green & other parties should all be able to participate in Presidential Debates! It looks like for the time being, the Internet will be the only source of truth. Why else would all the mainstream press refuse to cover the obvious election fraud in Arizona? They're all as corrupt as the day is long. Only by refusing to tolerate the rigged 2-party system will we be on the way to a true democracy.

Nick Harris
Nick Harris

In 2001 it time to change the rules.

Donald Bienvenue
Donald Bienvenue

Both the current party's are corrupt and. Disfunctional, get all the shits out of government!

Curtis Imrie
Curtis Imrie

League of Women Voters did a better job administering the debates

Richard Genier
Richard Genier

NO, I disagree with that! A third party whose for the American Citizen is needed badly to curb all the corruption in Politics!!!!

John Prekop
John Prekop

SO VERY TRUE Wisconsin, New York, Pennaylvaia, Indiana, West Virginia & New Jersey America, Her Allies, Our Veterans, Citizens & Seniors Need A Non-Politician True Patriot That Wants Give Back To The Country That Made Him Great By Serving As A Strong Commander In Chief And President Of The United States Of America For FREE! He Is The Only Candidate Who Is Not Bought Paid Fore And Owned By Super Pac, Special Interest Groups & Planned Parenthood Monies! Please Register Republican & Vote For Donald He Will Make America Safe, Sane, Prosperous & Great Again By Taking Care Of Our Military & Make Us Respected & Feared Once Again!

Larry Frechette
Larry Frechette

The two party system must never end, morons. Both germany and italy each had over two dozen political parties in the 1920s creating ineffective governments and allowing the ascendency of fascist fringe parties. Read some history, kids.

Allan Bolton
Allan Bolton

sadly it will never happen......wouldn't be able to control the questions.

Ben Hardin
Ben Hardin

A series of debates among all candidates who theoretically, because of ballot access, could win the presidency should start long before the party conventions take place and each debate should not be confined to one party and should consist of not more than three debaters on the stage at one time. That would give us all a chance to get to know them better without having to deal with the 15 percent rule seven weeks before the general election.

Kim Jurincic
Kim Jurincic

#Donald Trump for President! S.E. Michigander YES I Campaign/Volunteering for TRUMP, President of the United States of America 2016!!

Ben Hardin
Ben Hardin

“…survey results show that 81% of respondents would like to see a third candidate competing in every election.” I would not particularly like to see such. A third candidate would be a spoiler. A half-dozen viable candidates would be a different story. Might be possible if we had a top ten approval plus grade jungle primary election system such as described in my comments to the latest posting on the FB page Electoral Reform for a More Favorable Congress.

Charlotte Warnick
Charlotte Warnick

Sharon Doris Seekon,Chris is an excellent interviewer,you only think that because you didn't like any of Trumps idiot answers! Chris got under his skin! If he thinks that he can be president of the United States,(which I don't think that he is qualified to do)he should be able to answer every question that whoever asks him! Trump was the one that was totally out of line with his idiot answers.

James Lanfrankie
James Lanfrankie

If Chris was in the school yard he would get his teeth kicked in.

Jim Heminger
Jim Heminger

James Lanfrankie , Trump acts like a schoolyard bully anyway. Charlotte is right. Every Republican politician that is worth anything has developed an opinion on the questions you know you will get from Chris Matthews. Trump had never given those issues much thought and tried to respond off the top of his head. Big mistake.

David Shinder
David Shinder

Agreed! Everyone who is of voting age should be able to vote in any election. We need to,rid ourselves of these delegates and electoral college. The individual popular vote should be all that matters!

Kristy Tabor
Kristy Tabor

It's time to end the two-party system...PERIOD!! We have been repeatedly warned throughout the history of this nation...

Ben Hardin
Ben Hardin

We will not end the two-party system for very long unless we end the first-past-the-post election method. Ideally, the replacement should involve a top ten approval plus grade jungle primary followed by the general election also using an approval voting method. I discuss this in my comments attached to the latest posting on the FB page Electoral Reform for a More Favorable Congress.

Paul Sterling
Paul Sterling

Who are the NY super delegates, who have pledged their votes to Hillary regardless. I want their names, we will vote out every single on of them. They are part of the political corruption we see today. I want their names, please..... anyone know for sure?

Jim Heminger
Jim Heminger

Paul, These are not elected positions. Those who are active in local Party politics get chosen by local Party leaders. You could be a delegate if you get involved with your Party at the local level, regardless of whether you are Republican or Democrat.

Anders Andrén
Anders Andrén

Get yourself a representative democracy! Ie.. One person = One vote. Have more parties that reflect the whole spectrum of political ideas. Skip "superdelegates" and the system of lobbyism.

Richard Smith
Richard Smith

When has there ever been a president that wasn't a republican or a democrat They both say their against the deficit their both for more and better jobs they both want to fix immigration, yet it's they who have been in power and caused all these problems and more. We owe no loyalty to a party only to us the American people, is. Just vote for the best candidate and remember they are not our leaders they are our representatives. Never give them the title of leader

Becky Fly
Becky Fly

The process not only has to be opened to independent candidates but also to people who are not billionaires. You shouldn't need to be a billionaire to run. How much have we spent on these primaries and conventions? Our tax dollars pay for those right? Both party leaders have admitted that they don't even really matter. They choose the candidate they want. Democrats are using their super delegates against Bernie and Republicans are discussing ways to deny Trump the candidacy The whole thing is a undemocratic mess. We shouldn't have to use tax dollars on private parties. Tax dollars should be spent on fair elections that are open to all and also to leveling the playing field for those candidates in whatever way they can.

Sue Sorek Polsgrove
Sue Sorek Polsgrove

Agreed! It's ridiculous that the DNC & RNC claim to be "for the people". The Michigan primary results alone proved how false that is.

Dennis Maloney
Dennis Maloney

Time to open the process to everyone ! I personally always vote for whoever fits my own ideas anyway.

Gregg Malin
Gregg Malin

I'm smelling the dissolution of the two party system and a birth of communist homogenization into a one party rule incoming in ... 1 ... 2 ... 3! Presented to allow inclusive of more than just the two political parties we have now but manipulated into one party rule. Watch the decay!

Susan DeVilder
Susan DeVilder

It's a pipe dream. What needs to happen is that people need to wreck the two parties and rebuild them from the ground up. Neither party cares about the average American. The Republican Party is the party of the 1 percent and all they care about is enriching their campaign contributors. And the Democrats left the people quite awhile ago. All they care about is what matters to the professional class. Each party needs a revolution although if people think that Donald Trump, a wealthy billionaire who inherited his money from his father is going to give a crap about them, they are sadly mistaken.

Ben Hardin
Ben Hardin

Why should we care about rebuilding them. Why not just let them wilt and twist in the wind.

Anatole Evans
Anatole Evans

Looking like things have to get worse before they get better! No Bernie Sanders to make it better, I vote Trump to make it worse! Tough Love! Change is coming! Getting very top heavy! Will not stay home and will not vote HRC! Anyone not shouting about our corrupt and broken political system is part of the problem! When I see HRC smile and pay lip service to what Bernie Sanders has been fighting for his whole political career it makes my blood boil! Clinton's done more damage to black families than the KKK! Do your home work on the private prison industry and the get tough on crime legislation and the resulting militarization of the police! HRC and Bill Clinton as guilty as sin!!! I think the notion that congress will work in harmony with HRC has been completely dispelled! Yes I think that revolution is going to be necessary!!! Without a revolution nothing changes! Question is who is energizing voters! Who is growing the voter base? Who will turn out young voters? Who will get voters out that traditionally don't vote? Who is getting the independent vote? By far Bernie Sanders is the best hope for meaningful change and HRC is the best candidate for more status quo and republican obstruction! Look at the polling trajectory of where Sanders started and how far HRC has fallen! Amazing and totally missing from the discussion! Hillary Clinton is asking us to believe the corrupting influence of money does not change congressional bills and votes! She is asking us to believe the one percent are spending billions in lobbying for no reason! If you are buying this I got some things I would like to sell you!!! Yes the media blackout is in full effect! Check out Trump coverage Vs. Sanders!!! Guns and abortion! Keeping the people distracted and stuck on stupid! Divide and conquer! Only rich lives matter? Stand up to Hill first!! Trump is next! About as fair and balanced as the Corporate media! Feel the Bern! The two party system has been playing the same game for forty years! The only ones benefiting and getting what they want is the one percent! Just a trending news story brought to you by repetition creates reality inc. Also brought to you by just ignore Bernie Sanders inc. Not all that different from how Bill Cosby handled these questions! Bill Clinton is just a much better liar! Check out the list of allegations and the number of women making them! I believe victims and I don't trust the Clintons! Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby used power, intimidation, and a persona larger than life to silence a lot of women! Just wrong! Rape was part of the allegations and money was paid out! How many women need to come forward before we believe them? HRC is enabler in chief!

David B McAtee
David B McAtee

It's always so obvious who isn't an independent or third party voter in the comments. Party line sheep.

Sharon Doris Seekon
Sharon Doris Seekon

Chris Matthews, you are one of the rudest interviewers i have ever listened to. You purposely talk 90 miles to the minute purposely to get incorrect answers, you were totally out of line with Mr Trump. To give an example of the crazy repeats of people waning to discredit Trump, Congressman Reid Ribble (R) said Donsld Trump said ISIS should be carpet bombed. congressman you got your facts wrong and you talk about Trump doing that. ( it was not Trump that said ISIS should be carpet bombed. That comment was made by Cruze purposely so Trump would get blamed for the stupid comment. Get your facts strait Congressman Reid Ribble !!!! trump did not make that comment.

Tuoi Nguyen
Tuoi Nguyen

Hi everybody, Independent Voter...My IQ score of 169, and u?... ilHjDfw \U0001f449 start now. ~~> http://goo.gl/Op2zL7 ... I like this post: "It is more important to me to get these rules right and to open the process to amazing Americans who could run, but refuse to be affiliated with eith...

Steve C Wixson
Steve C Wixson

Nothing will change until you improve the quality of the voters! You can have 100 parties.

Steve C Wixson
Steve C Wixson

I know are Government schools are underfunded. I was talking about people taking time to educate themselves. It's hard with the right wing, corporate media.

Jim Heminger
Jim Heminger

All one has to do is read the comments on these posts to know how right you are. Our Government schools have created voters that are uninformed and easily led. You are dead on right.

Rodney K. Stanford
Rodney K. Stanford

All this will do is split the working class , the free-loaders and leeches will always vote for the democrat that promises to continue the freebies and more welfare...

David Browne
David Browne

Citizens United is an insurance policy intended to prevent the people ( 3rd parties ) from getting power away from the wealthy power- hungry politicians that have greedily destroyed our republic, repeatedly sold us out and lined their pockets simultaneously.

Rich Hicks
Rich Hicks

That's absolutely right! Repeal of Citizens United MUST be job one for the revolution to gain ground!

Ben Hardin
Ben Hardin

Independent party is an oxymoron.

John Wayne
John Wayne

The Privileged Elite play the Game of DIVIDE and CONTROL of WE the SLAVES. Religion, is Greatest TOOL within the Game of DIVIDE and CONTROL. "Of all the Tyrannies that Affects Mankind, Tyranny in Religion is the Worst." Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason.

John Lewis
John Lewis

Americans don't support a 3rd party system,thats reality

Becky Fly
Becky Fly

We haven't really been given a chance. This election shows clearly how the deck is stacked against it.

John Lewis
John Lewis

there are plenty of independent parties out there,nader ran as part of the green party years ago and no one supported him,Sanders runs for the Democratic nomination due to the reality that a 3rd party can't win in this country,the Tea Party should have been a 3 rd party but chose to merge with the GOP,

John Lewis
John Lewis

ralph neder and ross perot got plenty of media attention,what they lacked was public support

Sue Sorek Polsgrove
Sue Sorek Polsgrove

The only reason that more Americans didn't vote 3rd party in the past was because that those candidates didn't get the media exposure that the Dems & Reps did, and were less familiar to the public. Now that more people are finding out the awful truth about the DNC & RNC through the Internet, & realizing there are better alternatives to the hand-picked establishment candidates served up by those parties, there will be a reconstruction of both organizations, due to a mass exodus of members. I give a lot of credit to Bernie Sanders for opening that door and exposing the corruption, and also to Donald Trump for showing just what lengths both parties will go to, to maintain the status quo.

Sue Sorek Polsgrove
Sue Sorek Polsgrove

I, for one, supported both candidates. However, take into account the fact that many people have been conned into the 2-party "vote for the lesser evil" philosophy for years, simply because they genuinely believed that there was only a slim chance of the third-party candidate to be elected in the general. But now there's a game change, because of truly loathesome candidates on both sides, instead of just "blah" candidates that voters may not care about, but could still live with. Many voters are rebelling and threatening to vote 3rd party or not at all in the case of Bernie Sanders not being nominated; Trump voters are similarly disillusioned. If nothing else, 2016 may prove to be the straw that broke the back of the 2-party system.