Why are There only 2 Candidates in the Presidential Debates?

Wednesday, October 03, 2012
Gary Johnson

It’s only natural that the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama, and the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, should participate in tonight’s first presidential debate, but in fact there are two other candidates who qualified for the ballot in enough states that they could, technically, win the election.


Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party is on the ballot of 48 states and Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party is on 39 state ballots. In a pure democracy it would be considered a given that Johnson and Stein would join Obama and Romney on stage, but in the United States elections don’t work that way. That’s because the three presidential debates are run not by the government, but by a nonprofit organization, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). The CPD was created in 1987 by the Democratic and Republican parties as a bipartisan—rather than a nonpartisan—effort.


The current co-chairmen of the CPD are Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. and Michael D. McCurry. Fahrenkopf is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, while McCurry was President Bill Clinton’s press secretary. Not surprisingly, Fahrenkopf and McCurry have set a high bar to keep out third party candidates.


To qualify for the debates, candidates must “have demonstrated a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate, as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations' most recent publicly-reported results [as of September 21].” Of course it’s almost impossible to earn the support of 15% of the electorate if you don’t have regular access to network television or to the debates themselves.


For the record, the debates have seven national sponsors: Anheuser-Busch, The Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Sheldon S. Cohen, Crowell & Moring, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), The Kovler Fund and Southwest Airlines. There used to be more, but in recent days the YWCA and Philips Electronics have withdrawn their support for the debates over the issue of third party access, as has British advertising firm BBH New York.

-David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Debate Commission's Own Hot Topic (by Harrison Wills, OpenSecrets.org)

See all 13 comments


Geezer 11 years ago
Must be a real Hobson's choice, if you dont fancy either what do you do? Seems folk in US have no real choice or turkey! Glad not in US.
Toni 11 years ago
I was thinking...yeah I know scary thought as anything can spring into my mind without a single moments notice....any Who and I thought....When Someone we love is seriously Ill, and in dire need of a transplant...its A very scary time for all concerned....you Know the part will help...possibly Even make the person you love many times better than you could dreamed even back to their old self...but You worry as well....can We trust these parts....what If it doesn't work...what If the time we have now with a sick loved one is better than no loved one at all? Most not all but most will want to take the option of getting better, the option which is life saving....Where The hell am I going with this you say...well I shall tell you... America, like most other countries is "sick", it's losing what made it so vibrant healthy and strong....the Bandages aren't working anymore, and the very life blood is bleeding out so fast our once grand nation is almost dry. So we need to do something radical, and scary....something Involving a transplant....cut Out the old parts which just don't work anymore...the Parts which are the very reason the land so many dreamt of is now a nightmare....OLD POLITICS....democrat Or republican, I really don't give two hoots...what About the non party line in our constitution WE THE PEOPLE....not We the democrats not we the republicans...WE THE PEOPLE.....Which PERSON<---notice it says PERSON, not party...which person is the desperately needed new part, the part we can transplant into Washington which will not only replace the old worn out part, dead with disease it is...but who will also revitalize and renew....bring back the very thing which made the country so great, the very thing which gave us all such pride. Oh yes we still have pride....but its based on memories of "How it was" , on recollections of our youth and how lovely it all was<---note its past tense....we need someone to fix this past tense and make it so. We have to get over our fears of the unknown....found in a party which is not of our own....and LOOK at the candidates who are saying things which dont stink of the same old festering puss coming out of the top 2 bullshitters mouths....How can there ever be real change if what you vote for is the same old same thing? Obviously ITS NOT WORKING, obviously YEAR BY YEAR getting worse and worse and worse....no matter which of the top 2 parties were in power....DONT shy away from the transplant the country is in serious need of, in fear of losing it altogether....Take that transplant of someone different....who is fresh and healthy parts, to renew and give us back what the disease of greed and political as well as corporate corruptions took from us....Give freedom a chance, give honesty a chance, preserve what so many faught and died for....by voting for the very thing EVERYONE is after...A healthy and happy America, which is a beacon of hope to those who struggle, and proof that small town America matters as much if not more than the big bad city....WE THE PEOPLE ARE THE ONES WHO GET TO CHOOSE, THEY WORK FOR US.....slowely over time we have forgotten this fact....UNITED WE STAND DIVIDED WE FALL...CHOOSE wisely America....dont just vote the party you always do because your part of the club....vote for someone who actually has proven time and again they can get the job done...this person is running...the media just keeps blocking them....this person has already balanced a budget already made a difference for the better time and time again.....
Carl K 11 years ago
Gary Johnson and Jill Stein should have been allowed to participate in the presidential debates. To me, the litmus test should be whether or not a person could win enough votes in the general election to become president, a test which (as the article points out) both these candidates pass. Were these debates still run by the League of Women Voters, I believe both candidates would have been invited to participate. I applaud YWCA and Philips Electronics for withdrawing their financial support from these charades.
Robert 11 years ago
Thanks for the article. Libs are working worldwide against these unjust laws and for democracy. For info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ http://www.Libertarian-International.org ....
Jeff 4 Justice 11 years ago
YouTube search: Insist Obama & Romney Debate 3rd Party Opponents 6 Easy Steps To End The 2-Party System Top 3 Dumb Excuses To Not Vote 3rd Party
D.J. 11 years ago
Tamhas Buchan 11 years ago
Need to get Gary to agree to get in a greenscreen studio on debate night, answer all the questions, then cut him into the video and get it viral
Bob 11 years ago
The controllers have always submitted those whom they wished to enter office. With only 2 choices, people are fooled into voting one of them in. I don't expect that politics will ever be clean/fair the way they are controlled/rigged now. Voting should be done by throwing several names into contention, then letting a computer "choose". This seems wiser than letting ill-informed voters do the choosing. It would be better to have people run who aren't professional politicians, those who would represent people like themselves, who would do what is right for the people, not for wealthy controllers. This when it seems that there is nothing we can do now to stop our nation's coming demise, no matter how elections are handled. I don't see any better situation in sight.
Mr.Know 11 years ago
This is much bigger than our two vetted, blood sucking, career politicians. This goes much deeper than just American politics. This is a Devil loving Global bloodline Mafia we're dealing with. It's no "conspiracy" anymore and people are quickly catching on! I just worry what people like that are willing to do now that they find themselves cornered and desperate>?
Gabriella 11 years ago
Democracy Now! will be airing the entire debate but pausing real time in between Romney and President Obama's responses to let Jill Stein and the Justice Party candidate respond (gary johnson declined). http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2012/9/28/third_party_candidates_to_join_in_real_time_on_democracy_now_s_live_coverage_of_first_pres_debate

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