For the sake of America and its future, the Commission on Presidential Debates should allow Presidential candidate, Governor Gary Johnson, to debate alongside Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the September 26th Presidential Debate. The moral imperative to include Johnson emerges from the convergence of multiple factors, and holds true regardless of for whom any particular person intends to vote.
1. Johnson is not a typical third-party candidate.
While third-party candidates in US Presidential elections are often fringe, practically-speaking un-electable, and un-experienced in political office, Gary Johnson is a centrist, former two-term Republican Governor of a generally Democratic-leaning state, who has more experience as a government executive than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined, and has won more elections than the two of them combined as well. He has also been endorsed by several major newspapers that historically do not endorse third-party candidates.
2. Americans want another choice.
In general, Americans are dissatisfied with the candidates presented to them by both of the two major parties; both Clinton and Trump have disapproval ratings of well over 50%, a highly unusual, sad situation going into a presidential election. Allowing the most popular third-party candidate to debate, which, de facto, establishes his campaign as a viable alternative, could transform this race from one in which many people feel forced to vote against someone into one in which they feel enabled to cast a ballot for someone whom they actually wish to see elected.
3. Johnson has a real chance of either winning or impacting which other candidate wins.
Unlike typical third-party candidates, Johnson is on the ballot in all 50 states, and, according to some polls, polling in double digits in almost every State. According to his campaign, he is already polling at over 15% in more than a quarter of States, and in several States he appears to be closing in on second place. And that is without much media attention (other than for a gaffe). With the publicity generated by inclusion in the debate he is likely to surge (as did Bernie Sanders) from being a relative-unknown to a nationally-recognized contender. Additionally, we know that polls have, at times, grossly underestimated the support levels of third party candidates: in 1992, Ross Perot was polling at well under 10% shortly before he won nearly a fifth of the popular vote in November. If allowed to debate, Johnson should perform a lot stronger than did Perot: Johnson has government experience, and is running against candidates with far higher disapproval ratings than those whom Perot faced.
4. The Commission's 15% national poll threshold is the wrong way to measure.
For many reasons, the artificial 15% threshold set by the Commission (requiring that a candidate average 15% support in five particular polls in order to participate in the debates) is an improper barometer of the electoral impact of a third-party candidate. While an entire article could be dedicated to this issue, one important point is that in our Electoral College based presidential elections, national polls - and even national popular results - are irrelevant (as should be obvious to anyone who remembers Al Gore's loss in 2000 while winning the popular vote). In fact, our Presidential election is not one race, but rather a combination of numerous, independent State races - and Johnson is likely well above 15% in enough of those to be considered a serious contender, and certainly able to flip some states from one of the major candidates to another, thereby, potentially impacting who becomes President (as Ross Perot may have done). Furthermore, in a three-way race, due to how our Constitution provides for picking the President in the event that no candidate wins a majority of the electoral college vote (one vote per State in the House of Representatives) -- a candidate who wins the popular vote in a single State could become President, or, perhaps more likely, cause the person who came in second place in the general election to become President - a scenario that while unlikely, is not entirely unimaginable in today's political climate.
5. Johnson may already have 15% support.
If one truly believes that only candidates with 15% support should be included, the fact that Johnson continues to rise in polls - and, in this week's Quinnipiac poll, was polling at 13% with a margin of error of over 3 percent - means that he may already have achieved such support; polling regarding third-party candidates, is, as was mentioned before vis-a-vis Ross Perot, prone to error.
6. Americans want him included in the debate.
At least one poll found that regardless of for whom they plan to vote, the vast majority of Americans - nearly 2/3 of those polled - want Johnson on the stage alongside Clinton and Trump. That is a far more meaningful poll than any of Johnson's current pre-debate standings.
7. A majority of the members of our military seem to want him to be President.
A recent poll showed that Johnson is leading - yes, beating both Trump and Clinton - among members of our armed forces and veterans. If there is a strong indication that the folks who put their lives on the line to protect us think that Johnson would make the best President, we owe it to them to give him the opportunity to present his case to the rest of the nation alongside the other contenders. It is simply common decency to include in any debate a candidate who is polling in first place among the members of the military.
8. We must restore faith in the American democratic system.
Johnson enjoys disproportionate support from younger voters, many of whom have already become disillusioned with American democracy due to the irregular behavior of certain members of the Democratic National Committee towards Bernie Sanders during the primary races. Excluding Johnson would reinforce a sense among many Americans that our elections are, at least to some extent, "rigged;" and that feeling may have a profound impact on our society for decades to come. People who do not trust the government and our electoral process are not only less likely to vote in the future or get involved in civil causes, but are also less likely to support necessary government initiatives even when common sense would dictate necessity, and to support the type of obstructionism that has plagued Washington in recent years. In the eyes of many voters, allowing Johnson to debate would add a great deal of legitimacy not only to any victory by Trump or Clinton, but also help restore desperately-needed trust in the American democratic process. The Commission - originally created by former chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties - should not underestimate the importance of perception; allowing Johnson to debate would be of great benefit to both the winner of the election, and to American society.
9. Silencing Johnson would violate the message America wishes to send regarding ingenuity, free markets, and the benefits of small business.
In some ways, Johnson's campaign symbolizes American entrepreneurship and ingenuity. Like an entrepreneur who perceives public discontent with the offerings of established corporate behemoths, Johnson, who was a Republican while governor, is likely running on the Libertarian ticket because he knows that the public is unhappy with the candidates nominated by the two major parties, and is ripe for another offering. Like a startup entering a market dominated for decades by 800-pound gorillas, he has to offer a superior product and have his message reach his market. Debates are the venue that he needs. Artificially quashing him would go against everything that American preaches regarding free markets and small business.
So, let Gary Johnson debate.