Good News for the Future for Third Parties

August 21st 2016

Aron Macarow

A third-party candidate has not made the presidential debate stage since Ross Perot in 1992 and there's a reason: If you run for US. president, you must poll at 15 percent in five national surveys leading up to the scheduled debates or you can't participate in them.

Nearly 24 years later, we're still not likely to see an independent or third-party candidate invited to the debates in 2016. But we might, if it were only up to voters under the age of 30.

Millennials are branching out beyond Trump and Clinton this year.

According to national polling data compiled by FiveThirtyEight, Green party presidential contender Jill Stein scored an average of 10 percent among under 30 voters, which is significantly higher number than her 4 percent support among voters of all ages in a recent Pew survey. Meanwhile, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson polled at 10 percent in the Pew Research Center survey.

But things get interesting when we look at the five national polls picked by the number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight. Johnson averages out at 17 percent support among voters between 18 and 29-years-old, only coming in under the 15 percent threshold in two polls — and only by 1 percentage point in each case.

Third party candidates are popular with under 30 voters.

As FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten notes, this is unusual:

What makes the under-30 vote’s flirtation with third-party candidates especially interesting is that this group, in 2016, is even more ethnically and racially diverse than it was in 2008 and 2012. Longtime FiveThirtyEight readers know that we’re skeptical of the “permanent Democratic majority” hypothesis — the belief that a diversifying electorate will give Democrats an enduring advantage against Republicans in presidential elections. And this is one small example of why we’re skeptical: Coalitions change. Instead of automatically going Democratic, younger voters, for now, seem to be checking out options beyond the two major parties.

Although we're not likely to see someone other than a Democrat or a Republican on the national debate stage this year, this is the biggest bump that third-parties have seen in long time.

But will the future of third-parties in American continue to look brighter after Trump is no longer present to polarize the electorate?

That remains to be seen. The only independent candidate to ever win a presidential election was George Washington in 1789. Given that track record, we might be waiting for a while.

RELATED: The Reason Some Minorities Say Third-Party Voting Is a 'Privilege'