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

Created: 30 December, 2015
Updated: 18 October, 2022
3 min read

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 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:

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  • 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.

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