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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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508 comments
Brian Leland Rooney
Brian Leland Rooney

The general election is very different from the primaries. Let's look at numbers a sec. Less than half of americans are registered to vote. Less than a third of those are republicans. Really nobody likes the guy except the media, and in a three way race Trump cannot numerically win, even with 100% republican support, which he won't get. In Colorado there was no republican primary, and we weren't the only ones. So who picked him if it wasn't the people? Well then independents have this historically unprecedented 43% of voters this year, and together with the young they skew heavily progressive. I've seen anywhere from 70% - 90% of Sanders supporters polled identifying as never Hillary. That is to say, pretty safely, that Stein has a potential voting base of 35%. Greens are on the ballot in 23 states currently, reaching around 60% of voters, and have active ballot access initiatives, combined with skyrocketing donations, that will likely make them a contender in 90% of the country by November. So 29% republicans and 43% independents leaves us with safely estimated 30% (ish) of voters identifying as democrats. I've seen this list as high as 32% with republicans listing as low as 23%, depending on where you look. By the way, that 32% includes me, and most of the Berners that are about to jump their sinking ship. The thing about this is, if the voters do what they want instead of what they're told, Hillary will get very few independents or republicans, leaving a third party president for 2017 as the MOST LIKELY OUTCOME. Johnson has been around for years and the libertarians are not likely to get Sanders' votes en masse, because Sanders' voters are voting on principles that don't match. I see him ending with 5-10% likely, which will likely come more out of republicans than any other demographic. The Democrats may have put a fear mongering shill in as the Republican nominee to try and lock the coronation of Hillary, maybe not, they may have stolen votes in the most obviously crooked primary season the US has ever seen, maybe not, they may even have backed Sanders into a corner at this point, maybe not. But what they definitely didn't count on was the rise of Jill Stein in the 7th inning stretch. What they definitely aren't promoting is this honest and simple numerical analysis. TRUMP CANNOT NUMERICALLY WIN. Don't worry about that Dukakis of 2016. But what is inevitable is that no matter who wins, the ideas of the progressive movement in this country are coming, like a meteor. Dinosaurs best get out of the way. #SteinForgivesStudentDebt

Tom Adams
Tom Adams

Get the money out, no lobbyist allowed !! a third or fourth party would'nt hurt !!

Jim Smith
Jim Smith

Voting republican or democrat is pointless.

Laura Brann
Laura Brann

SO.....where or who is our leader to make this "3rd" party available to we, the voters?? Sounds like another case of All talk and no action!!

Fidel Hernandez
Fidel Hernandez

and no more rich, lawyers, MBA's, etc....we want educated calm people looking for real solutions, not profits.

Greg Baenen
Greg Baenen

I have been saying for most of my life the supposed two party system was a sham. That true democracy demands a multi party base. Furthermore, term limits. Congress cannot enact laws it does not have to obey,

Alan Gilmore
Alan Gilmore

It's all about game theory; its like tic tac toe, there are only 2 ways this can turn out. The entire election process is not set up for anything but a 2 party system. You won't get any votes in the electoral college, and the rules of the game can be made much worse in a few years. If you want to win you have to work from within to change the rules, then it can open up a 3rd option if need be. Get control of the Supreme Court, end Citizens United, gain control of the senate, get progressives elected, get rid of GOP gerrymandering, gain control of the house and open up primaries. You will not have any chance at any of these steps if Trump is elected. 16 years later you will be trying to play the same impotent game.

Jeff Leitson
Jeff Leitson

The other way is to admit the 2 party system no longer serves the citizens well and revamp it.

Laura Doyle
Laura Doyle

Absolutely and now is the time!!! #StillBernie #JillneverHill #NeverTrump

Steven Bulcroft
Steven Bulcroft

I think that is misleading and wonder about the survey methods that are not reported. In order to govern one needs coalitions that support the leader. Maybe someday but not now and independents are best seen in grass roots campaigns

Dennis Utley
Dennis Utley

I like the way you all are complaining about how your elected officials are corrupt, but you keep voting them back into office.

Locella Rice Lewis Velthouse
Locella Rice Lewis Velthouse

We all know that Donald Trump won more VOTEs from the REAL PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA....THERE SHOULD BE NO DOUBT WHO IS GOING TO GET THE NOMINATION...NONE AT ALL...BECAUSE WE THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN...IF THIS NOMINATION IS STOLEN FROM HIM ....WE WILL KNOW THEN OUR VERY VOTE DON'T COUNT....AND THIS ISN'T GOING TO BE RIGHT EVER.....OUR VOTE MUST COUNT....OR WE HAVE NO RIGHTS AT ALL....NO RIGHTS !!!!!!!!

Dennis Utley
Dennis Utley

Most so-called independents always voted with the democrats on every issue, I don't call that independent.

Edmond Seymore
Edmond Seymore

We must change the way Americans elect their representatives. Elections for public office should allow all candidates that meet a documented criteria be include on the ballot. If there are more than two candidates, a run off election shall be held for the two canidates receiving the most votes in the first round of voting. The amount of money spent to support a candidate should be strictly limited. We have technology to make the process of educating voters much more efficient and less costly. The government should fund a Web site for each candidate meeting the requirements to run for office to post their platform and arguments for their candidacy. The government's voter information Web page should have a link to each candidate's site. Several public debates should be funded by government for all valid candidates during the course of the campaign period. The government should fund limited "get out the vote" advertisements to publicize the elections, mention all candidates' names and refer voters to the voter information Web site. Nongovernment-paid advertisements for elections, issues or candidates should be illegal. Newspapers would inform voters by reporting on the debates and the issues as is the current case. Then candidates would not be limited to the wealthy or those having obligations to the wealthy.

Marianne Flanagan
Marianne Flanagan

I agree. this election cycle has shown that there is little or no difference between the democratic and republican parties. Hillary Clinton and the Debbie Wassermann Schultz wing of the party are more representative of republican policies and ideals than those of the democratic party.

Kevin C. Smith
Kevin C. Smith

I would like to see us advance to a greater number of smaller parties. No one really commanding a majority.

Debbie Cross
Debbie Cross

T R U M P IS WHAT WE SAY! 🇺🇸👍👏❤️💙🇺🇸❤️💙👍👏🇺🇸

Lois Dale
Lois Dale

AHHHAA! There's a subject Rump can fight about that means nothing but takes time during a debate!

Jody McIntosh
Jody McIntosh

What's the difference between Gary Johnson and a democrat? Gary Johnson : Prostitution is safer when legal and regulated. (Jun 2011) I support gay unions; government out of marriage business. (Apr 2011) Overturn CA Prop. 8: Let gays marry. (Apr 2013) Bigger border fence will only produce taller ladders. (Jan 2016) Arizona anti-immigrant law leads to racial profiling. (Aug 2012) A 10-foot wall just requires an 11-foot ladder. (Aug 2012) 2 year grace period for illegals to get work visas. (Nov 2011) 1 strike & you're out for legal immigrants who violate terms. (Nov 2011) Let some, but not all, illegal immigrants stay in US. (Nov 2011) We educate the world's best & brightest; why send them back? (Jun 2011) Open the border; flood of Mexicans would become taxpayers. (Jan 2001) Mexican immigrants are pursuing same dreams we all have. (Jan 2001) Share costs of legal immigration between states & federal. (Feb 2001) Federal government should deal with criminal repatriation. (Feb 2001) Shall I go on?

Ryan D Busch
Ryan D Busch

He made some good points.. kinda dissapointed in the lack of inteligant caller questions. Maybe millenial independants should start calling in?

Dennis Utley
Dennis Utley

Really?, he just endorsed Hillary, plus he always voted with the democrats, that's what you call independent?

Mike Guay
Mike Guay

Dennis Utley I'm referring to his chosen label. You can go back to watching Faux Snooze now, while you wait for the grim reaper. ☠

Shawna Lit
Shawna Lit

Today, I voted for 5 independents, 5 dem/indie types, 2 dems, and 1 liberatarian. No repugs and the 5 dem/indie types have platforms similar to Jill Steins/Bernie. They're more independent minded. The other two dems were either dem or repugs and I won't vote repugs.

Lee Young Oursler
Lee Young Oursler

For a return to a strong middle-class and greatness, the party system needs to go along with all of the dark money.

Raymond Halliday
Raymond Halliday

We need to vote out most of our corrupt congress, which in the past most Americans refuse to do, which i could never understand. And than create two new political parties, moderate parties, that don't take money and will make new rules to that affect asap, if elected. Americans are now realizing democrats and republicans are corrupt and a joke, and they know who they work for. We would have everything to gain with two real democratic political parties.

Electoral Reform for a More Favorable Congress
Electoral Reform for a More Favorable Congress

“We need to vote out most of our corrupt congress….” -- Raymond Halliday We may need to but we won’t do it because most of our congressional districts are “safe” for a Democrat or a Republican and thus incumbents are more likely to be re-elected. We need nonpartisan (not bi-partisan) redistricting commissions and we also need multi-seat instead of single-seat districts so that more voters within a district have a greater sense of being represented. And we don't need no more stinkin' parties!

Russ Crocker
Russ Crocker

Gerrymandering: legislators get to draw electoral districts ensuring voters that favor them are a majority. The official chooses the voters, not the voters choose their officials. Redistricting must be removed from the hands of legislatures and the districts drawn by independent third parties. In places where this has happened, elections have become more competitive and therefore more representative.

Alan Gilmore
Alan Gilmore

Unfortunately the way the GOP has gerrymandered red states there is very little chance of gaining control of the house unless there is a huge defection from the GOP to Democratic candidates, which frankly they will be afraid of doing. The GOP has done its best to stack the deck in their favor, and keep it there. Some the most blatant examples of gerrymandering were undone by the Supreme Court but there is a lot of dismantling of the GOP apparatus that needs to be done, starting with the SCOTUS, then Citizens United, the senate, voters rights and open primaries. It won't get done with Trump in the drivers seat.

Gerald Rubano
Gerald Rubano

we need a third party no matter what..and the ability to vote foranuone we want reguardless of party

Dean Osborne
Dean Osborne

It seems to me that the very people who enact laws that change the current system, they belong to those two parties, with the exception of Bernie. So don't look for any thing to change soon.

Connie Cooper
Connie Cooper

Too late to do it this election. But I think we should expand in 2020.

Ann Zevallos
Ann Zevallos

Please watch Empire Files by Abby Martin. This shows us why we should never vote in another Clinton.

Tom Reid
Tom Reid

Their needs to be several changes in our elections. First I think we need to do away with so called delagates. We need to change States being able to gerrymander the elections. We need to take the power away from the partys. No one shud give more then $2500 to any one. Or set up so all get the same amount.Theirs a large number addons but they don't come to mind now Feel free to add to or explain why some things need to change.

Parvaneh Showrai
Parvaneh Showrai

Donald Trump is an independent. He is not part of the stablishment, that is why both sides hates him and media trashes him.

Jonny Shaw
Jonny Shaw

IMO What we really need is this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote Such a system would mean you could vote for who you want without concern about wasting a vote on a great candidate who couldn't win. Currently (based on polls) Stein or Johnson can't win, so you can vote for them and you may send a message but you also risk a vote that could go whichever of Chump or Skillary you hate less. Me personally, I'd rather see Green or Johnson but the thought of a racist megalomaniac who has run his campaign in the same model of past fascist politicians concerns me so I may just toss my vote to Clinton who bothers me but doesn't terrify me. If I could grade the vote I'd be free to vote my conscience for whichever individual supported policies I agree with.

Harold Brock
Harold Brock

Don't try that this time around hillary wins civil war.

Sherry Nicholson
Sherry Nicholson

Congress is the partisan gridlock. That's where you need more independents.

Larry Johnson
Larry Johnson

If independents ( not enough ) should be in power then others calling themselves the real independents, would just complain about them..a never ending cycle. With independents then becoming a party like GOP or DEMS..no change

Mary Kruse
Mary Kruse

At the present time we are doomed with the 2 party system. They have managed to screw the American people without even a kiss. We need to get rid of Citizens United and limit the amount of money spent on elections. Also they only get 3 months to campaign. This 2 year crap is way out of line. By the time November gets here nobody will care because they have been in our face for so damn long. we definitely need more independents in the senate and congress.

Tony Curcio
Tony Curcio

Sounds like a winner to me since Independents are now 45% of the voters. That's why the 2 corrupt parties work so hard to suppress our voters.