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SHABAZZ: When third parties become our first choices

May 7, 2016

Shabazz
One day I was asked, if the election came down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, whom would I vote for for president? My answer was Justin Trudeau because I would be living in Canada.

(Rimshot!)

But seriously, folks, when you take a good look at what’s been happening at the national level and—to a lesser degree—the state level, third-party candidates are starting to look a lot better to a lot more people.

In a recent poll by Rasmussen, nearly one in four voters said they would stay home or vote a third party if Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were the nominees of their respective parties. According to Rasmussen, if Trump were the Republican nominee, 16 percent would choose a third party. And if Clinton were the Democratic nominee, 11 percent of Democrats would vote a third party.

A recent Monmouth national poll had Libertarian presidential candidate and former two-term New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson at 11 percent in a three-way matchup with Clinton and Trump. Clinton was at 42 percent; Trump came in at 34 percent.

And before you accuse Johnson of “stealing” votes from Republicans, thus helping elect a Democrat, let me make two things clear. First, to steal implies you are taking something that belongs to someone else without their permission. Well, the last time I checked, in America, you don’t own anyone’s vote. You have to earn it.

Second, the data showed Johnson pulled about equally from both candidates. Actually, he pulled slightly more from Clinton than from Trump. And the main reason for his support? You guessed it: People are really tired of the two-party system and the current crop of candidates.

When Gallup looked at the issue last year, nearly 60 percent of Americans said a third party was needed because Republicans and Democrats did such a “poor job of representing the American people.” And this also comes at a time when the number of people who identify as Republicans and Democrats is near historic lows: 29 percent identify as Democrats, 26 percent Republicans, and—get this—43 percent, according to Gallup, consider themselves independents.

Here locally, while the Republicans and Democrats settled on their gubernatorial candidates, Libertarians actually had a contest between longtime party activist and construction company owner Rex Bell of Wayne County and Fishers businessman Jim Wallace, who sought the GOP nomination in 2012. Bell won.

I sat down with Bell and Wallace and moderated a debate. They both told me they encountered a lot more support for a third-party candidate than in previous years. And even on my own website, Indy Politics, I ran an informal poll; nearly 60 percent of the more than 1,000 respondents said they were willing to support a third-party candidate.

Why are so many people taking a new interest in third parties? It’s easy. They are tired of the current two-party system: the bickering, the ineffectiveness, the gamesmanship that doesn’t lead to anything, the inside baseball, you name it.

Normally, third parties get only nominal attention, unless there is something or someone really big going on, like Ross Perot in 1992. This year feels different.

Will the third parties win? Probably not. But will their presence be felt? Definitely. Let me change that: I hope.•

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Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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