Millennials consider third party candidates

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Millennials consider third party candidates

Illustration by Raka Sakar

Illustration by Raka Sakar

Illustration by Raka Sakar

Illustration by Raka Sakar

By Casey Schmauder / Staff Writer

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When it comes to this year’s presidential election, Chris Orantes refuses to sacrifice his ideals or conform to a two-party system.

“If I don’t think that Clinton or Trump is the answer, I’m not going to vote for the lesser evil,” Orantes, a Pitt senior, said. “I’m not going to vote for the problem.”

Although millennials — that cohort of Americans born between 1980 and 2000 — tend to lean Democratic, this election season has seen an increase in college-aged students turning to candidates from minority third parties.

In Pennsylvania, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein have both made the ballot. When Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race, Johnson marketed himself to Bernie supporters as a viable replacement. And both are trying to appeal to millennials like Orantes, who has moved to the fringes looking for political inspiration.

“This year, our generation has pretty decent representation, and we think the party system is broken, and we’re realizing there are other ways around it,” Orantes said, adding that he plans to vote for Johnson in November.

As of Sept. 2, Johnson has only been polling at 6 percent in Pennsylvania and Stein at 2 percent, according to While Stein is polling at roughly her national average, Johnson is polling at about 10 percent, indicating he has less support in Pennsylvania compared to other states. These and other polls indicate that third-party candidates will have a hard time catching on in Pennsylvania, even among young voters.

According to pollster and Franklin and Marshall College professor G. Terry Madonna, that’s unlikely to change before November. He doubts either will receive a significant following by then. To even appear in a presidential debate, a third-party candidate needs to reach a 15 percent national polling threshold.

“The campaign is so sharply drawn between two candidates,” Madonna said. “For third-party candidates, 95 percent of the voters don’t even know who they are. So how are they going to get known? How are they going to use hundreds of millions of dollars to get known across the country?”

Yet severe partisanship this election cycle has caused millennials to open up to third-party candidates.

In a Harvard Institute of Politics survey in the spring of 2016, 61 percent of millennials said they favored Clinton and 25 percent said they favored Trump, with the remaining 14 percent saying they were undecided.

According to the same survey, however, 48 percent of millennials said they believed today’s politicians to be incapable of solving the nation’s problems.  

Chris Borick, a pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College, said the “historically high negative opinion” of both candidates from the major political parties could affect the chances of other candidates.

“It clearly opens the door for alternatives in the form of third-party candidates,” Borick said. “Therefore, I think in this election cycle, you’re going to have voters giving these third-party candidates a much tighter look than you might otherwise see in a presidential race.”

Green Party candidate Stein tries to appeal to millennial voters by using the power of the federal government over the banking industry to forgive all student debt, a platform similar to Sanders’, according to Carl Romanelli, campaign coordinator for Stein in Pennsylvania.

“There are 42 to 43 million people who are encumbered with this crazy student debt that only benefits the bankers,” Romanelli said. “If Stein were president, she would bail out all of those students.”

Libertarian Party candidate Johnson, on the other hand, manages to appeal to both liberal and conservative millennials with left-leaning social policies and right-leaning economic policies.

Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, wants low taxation and low regulation. According to Borick, these values may especially appeal to millennial voters who lean conservative but do not support Trump.

Pitt graduate student Matthew Zarit, who is studying American politics, said Pittsburghers vote will be important in the election because Pennsylvania is neither solidly Democratic nor solidly Republican.

“Pennsylvania, traditionally, has gone Democrat. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia carry the Democratic vote, and everything in between is solidly red,” Zarit said. “So people have to turn out in Pittsburgh for sure if Clinton is going to take Pennsylvania.”

Even when third parties don’t win or “spoil” an election, they have a history of bringing new issues to the forefront. Though third party candidates historically don’t win elections, they can influence the candidates of the two major parties. Ross Perot forced both Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush to talk about debts and deficits in the 1992 election.

“There have been scores of third parties, but those that stay often influence the course of an election by getting everyone to focus on an issue,” Madonna said. “When Clinton ran against Bush, Ross Perot ran as an independent and caused Bush and Clinton to talk about debts and deficits.”

While neither third party candidate has much of a chance at winning, the support for Stein’s focus on student debt and Johnson’s focus on low taxation may bring those issues further into the political limelight.  

Stein’s campaign coordinator still thinks that millennials have the potential to challenge the status quo in this year’s election.

“I certainly would not rule winning out when the opportunity is there,” Romanelli said. “We’re available to the voters. If a message is reached and resonates, anything could happen.”

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