A new groundbreaking poll released by Quinnipiac University found that a whopping 62 percent of likely American voters believe that Libertarian presidential candidate and former two-term New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson should be included alongside Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton in the upcoming presidential debates, which are sanctioned by the Commission on Presidential Debate (CPD).
Sixty-two percent is a significant majority, but the Quinnipiac poll results become even more interesting after breaking down the demographics by age, with pollsters finding that 82 percent of millennials – those between the ages of 18 and 34 – want a third party included in the debates.
Among party lines, 56 percent of likely Republican voters said they want Johnson to be included, while perhaps surprisingly, even more Democrats – 60 percent – said the same. Sixty-nine percent of independent voters also want Johnson on stage, and 37 percent of all respondents said they were already considering voting for a third party in the November election.
As if these numbers aren’t enough, there are also the 664,857 American citizens who have signed a petition asking the CPD to include Johnson and his vice presidential running mate and former two-term Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, in the debates.
If democracy has any merit in the U.S. presidential election, these numbers alone should be the catalyst needed to force the CPD to finally place a third podium on the debate stage this fall; however, the CPD has established strict and arguably arbitrary rules for debate inclusion and will likely hold its ground.
37 percent of all respondents said they were already considering voting for a third party in the November election.
Per CPD rules, laid out on its website, in order for Johnson to participate in the three general election presidential debates this cycle, he must obtain 15 percent average support in five national polls: ABC-Washington Post, CBS-New York Times, CNN-Opinion Research Corporation, Fox News and NBC-Wall Street Journal. Candidates must also be eligible for presidency and “appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College,” according to the CPD.
According to the Johnson-Weld website, Johnson is currently averaging at 10.2 percent in the 5 polls used by the CPD, jumping about 4 points in the past six weeks. He also garnered 10 percent support in the latest Quinnipiac poll, a poll that is not considered for debate inclusion, while Green Party nominee Jill Stein came in at 4 percent.
Johnson’s continued rise in the polls prompted the CPD to recently issue a directive to the universities hosting the debates, asking them to acquire an additional lectern and prepare for a third candidate to appear on stage, just in case Johnson hits the magic number.
“With [former Gov.] Gary Johnson polling in some places more than double digits, they might have, some of our production people may have said, ‘Just in case, you need to plan out what that might look like,’” CPD co-chair Mike McCurry, who is also former Bill Clinton White House Press Secretary, told POLITICO. “We won’t know the number of invitations we extend until mid-September.”
Johnson’s main hurdle to meet the 15 percent debate inclusion requirement seems to be as simple as gaining more exposure. When Quinnipiac respondents were asked about their opinion of Johnson, 68 percent said they hadn’t heard enough about him to form an opinion. Seven percent held a strongly favorable view, 10 percent had a somewhat favorable view, while 6 percent had a somewhat unfavorable view and 8 percent had a strongly unfavorable view.
But even if Johnson doesn’t hit the 15 percent average in the five polls, the CPD has hinted that it may bend its own rules and decide to “give him an inch” and place him on the debate stage anyway, according to McCurry’s Republican counterpart, CPD co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf.
“If someone came in and let’s say he was [polling] at 14.5 percent and the margin of error in five polls was 3 points, we are going to have to sit down and look at it,” Fahrenkopf told CNCB in early August. “But right now that person would not be included.”
Johnson, who hopes to capitalize on Trump and Clinton’s record-low favorability numbers, told Politico that he remains “optimistic we’re going to actually get into the debates. We’re spending money right now in many states, and in five states right now we’re at 16 percent. So I’m just really optimistic.”
If by some chance Johnson doesn’t make the cut, he told Fox News’ Christ Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that it essentially means “game over” on winning the presidency.
“Winning the election, yes, I would say game over,” Johnson said.