Third party support has reached its highest levels in decades. While it remains highly unlikely for a third party candidate to win the presidential election, there are still significant possibilities that could result from this increased popularity, including a radical reshaping of the political landscape.
Retaining a certain percentage of the popular vote, for example, could prove revolutionary in regards to blazing the trail of success for future third party candidates. According to the Federal Election Commission,
"Third-party candidates could qualify for public funds retroactively if they received 5% or more of the vote in the general election."
Neither Gov. Gary Johnson nor Dr. Jill Stein obtained the mandatory 15% in national polls to be able to participate in the debates, which could explain why Johnson's numbers are down a bit, according to recent polls. Despite the drop, however, Johnson remains at a solid 6%, preserving the potential attainability of public funding for the Libertarian Party in 2020.
More Than Just A "Wasted Vote"
But it also means more than public funding. Reaching the magic number of 5 percent on Election Day can help boost something that is even more important to candidates outside the major parties: ballot access and party recognition.
Five percent of the national vote for Gov. Gary Johnson or Dr. Jill Stein or any other third party candidate running would qualify their respective parties for national party recognition, as well as party recognition and ballot access in many individual states (depending on the rules of the state).
According to the webseries, Third Candidates, just getting 3% of the vote in nearly half the states in the country will give a third party ballot access in the next midterm election in those states.
In other words, a modest showing in the polls can open the door for more outside challengers in crucial legislative races nationwide, and perhaps greater competition as dissatisfaction with the major parties remains at historic highs.
The popular narrative that is repeated over and over for voters to hear and consequently believe is that third party candidates cannot win and thus a vote for them is a "wasted vote." Yet, this only looks at short-term gains and losses rather than the long game.
In fact, there is mounting evidence (including the evidence presented here) that the "wasted vote" talking point is not true, as enough votes for a candidate outside the major parties could drastically change the political landscape in the U.S.
Although it may not be the ideal outcome for third party proponents, increased support for third parties still has the potential to bring about small but monumental victories across the country. Under the current system, it is practically impossible for a third party candidate to win the presidency, but that doesn't mean elections can't be more competitive.