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Why 5 Is Such An Important Number to Third Party Candidates in 2016

Created: 12 August, 2016
Updated: 17 October, 2022
2 min read

The focus for minor party candidates Gary Johnson and Dr. Jill Stein right now is getting to the 15 percent polling threshold to qualify for the presidential debate stage. However, there is another important number for both candidates, and that is the number 5.

With widely disliked major-party candidates representing the Democrats and Republicans this year, third parties are seeing unprecedented support. Current polling puts Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson as high as 9 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein as high as 4 percent.

With Johnson as high as he is in the polls, it is very possible that a third lectern could be added next to Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. In fact, Politico reports that debate sites are preparing for the possibility of adding a podium for a third candidate.

However, if Johnson or Stein do not qualify for the presidential debates, both candidates will set their sights on another goal that could open up the 2020 presidential election to be much more competitive.

According to the Federal Election Commission, if a third party gets over 5 percent of the popular vote, they’re eligible for public funding in the next election cycle. According to their website:

Since no third-party candidate received 5% of the vote in the 2008 presidential election, only the Republican and Democratic parties were eligible for 2012 convention grants, and only their nominees were eligible to receive grants for the general election once they were nominated. Third-party candidates could qualify for public funds retroactively if they received 5% or more of the vote in the general election.

For Johnson and Stein, this means they would have to garner support from about 15 million voters each, something that is not an unrealistic achievement.

In 2012, Johnson’s bid for 5 percent was a stretch: both he and Stein drew less than 1 percent nationwide. But this year, with Johnson’s polling nearly double the requirement, and Stein’s barely more than a point behind, neither third-party candidates looks to be fading any time soon.

Additionally, it seems the defection rate for the major party candidates is higher than previous elections.

By receiving public funding, the two largest third parties in the United States would be, in a sense, legitimized. It would help propel Greens and Libertarians from the political periphery into the national arena alongside Democrats and Republicans, potentially helping them secure a spot on the presidential debate stage in future elections.