‘Apples and Planets’
While their allegiance lies with two separate political institutions, Kate Culver and Walt Granecki share the same sentiment when it comes to the lack of attention that their parties receive from mainstream media outlets. Yet, despite what many consider to be a bleak outlook for their parties’ chances of taking control of the Oval Office in January 2017, they maintain their focus and continue to press on through the storm of an election season that Culver says has been anything but a typical apples to oranges comparison.
“This election cycle is kind of like apples and planets,” Culver said. “I mean, this is so out of the box, you know, that who knows what’s going to happen. And I’m not going to limit any possibility.”
The third party tickets, an all-encompassing, catch-all term which references every political party other than the Democratic and Republican Parties, struggle to find their footing among the overwhelming media coverage and attention given to the two leading forces that have ruled the political landscape in America for much of its history, something that Culver, co-founder of the Green Party of Tennessee, said can be very frustrating.
“It is the bane of our existence,” Culver said. “And you know, if you don’t laugh, you cry, and if you get caught up in the, ‘Oh, me, my, they don’t pay attention to us,’ then you lose sight of the goal, and the goal is the planet.”
The Green Party and its presidential nominees, Jill Stein and Ajuma Baraka, is just one of many lesser-publicized parties that contest for consideration of voters; they strive to escape the immense shadow cast by the two major parties.
It seems that the majority of Americans are either unaware of the option of the third parties’ platforms, the third parties’ candidates, or as Granecki, vice-chair of the Libertarian Party of Shelby County points out, even the third parties’ existence at all. He is all too familiar with this reality when it comes to garnering votes for his party’s candidates, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld.
“Unless you Google ‘Libertarian Party,’ or ‘parties of the United States,’ most likely, you won’t find out about the other third parties,” Granecki said.
Even still, because of the undeniable unpopularity of the two major-party candidates, many members of the third party groups are more optimistic than ever about their chances of staking a claim in the American political spectrum. Unflattering poll numbers for both the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton and the Republicans’ outsider, Donald Trump, seem to reflect Americans’ disenchantment with the two forerunning candidates.
A recent national survey conducted by Pew Research Center and published on Sept. 2 concluded that among 1,201 adults, including 947 registered voters’ “unhappiness with this year’s choices crosses partisan lines,” with just 36 percent of Republican and Republican-lening registered voters, and 35 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaning voters saying that they are satisfied with their choices this election.
Even with such low approval ratings for the major-party candidates amongst voters, Granecki is still forced to take unconventional methods to spread awareness of his party’s nominee.
“I have a yard sign that I actually put in the front of my window when I park so that everyone can see, just because people don’t know,” he said. “And I’ve had people stop me and say, ‘Who’s Gary Johnson?’ and they’ll say, ‘Well I don’t even know who he is, but it’s got to be better than the other two.”
‘They’re going to give people what they demand’
Aaron Fowles and Carlos Ochoa are both members of the organizing committee for the Green Party of Shelby County. Fowles serves as the campaign coordinator for west Tennessee, an operation that includes 13 counties including Shelby County. The two men feel that the mainstream media outlets have practically tainted this election cycle.
Fowles credits the candidates’ coverage to the media outlets pandering to the American public.
“They’re going to give the people what they demand,” he said. “Which essentially, because we have a public that is uneducated about the full spectrum of the political analogy, they’re demanding bread and circuses and they’re getting bread and circuses. It’s become reality. We literally have a reality TV star running for president.”
Ochoa quickly echoed Fowles sentiment.
“It’s a mockery of democracy,” said Ochoa regarding how the media has dedicated its coverage to the two domineering politicians. “I think Trump has got something like $4 billion in free media since he announced his candidacy. Hillary Clinton got something like half that.”
Granecki empathizes with Fowles and Ochoa in his regard to the mainstream news and media. He said that his candidates would fare much better if only they could get a portion of the recognition and attention given to the two major parties.
“They don’t know enough about them because the media’s not covering them,” Granecki said. “I think there’s a current poll that says 55 percent of Americans wouldn’t vote for Gary Johnson and Bill Weld because they don’t know enough about them.”
In fact, given the two mainstream candidates and the negativity that so prominently surrounds them, a large portion of American voters may choose to sit at home this election. In that same aforementioned study by Pew, results show that 63 percent of voters say they either are not too, or not at all satisfied.
Susan Zeringue, a Mid-South mother of three, is one of those voters. She said that she believes the only thing helping the chances of a Clinton presidency is Trump, and the only thing that increases Trump’s chances of winning is Clinton.
“It’s supposed to be a country for the people, by the people,” Zeringue said. “That’s not them, that’s us. We are responsible. One day, God willing, I will have grandchildren and they will say, ‘Did you vote for Hillary or Trump?’ and I will say, ‘I voted for neither.’”
Zeringue said she wishes that more Americans would not fall into the same pattern that tends to repeat itself every four years; she wants voters to explore the third party option this election cycle.
“If every person who told me, ‘I would vote for them (Trump and Clinton) but…’ voted third party – I mean you don’t need to vote for Gary Johnson, just don’t vote for Hillary or Trump – if every person who said that actually voted third party, it would be the end of the Democrat and Republican Party,” Zeringue said.
Even with the quickly-declining approval ratings for Trump and Clinton and Americans’ growing impatience with the political system, the third-party candidates must overcome statistics that seem to be against them.
The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research’s Carl Brown pointed out that in the 2012 presidential election results, which featured Stein as the Green Party’s nominee and Johnson as the Libertarian’s, the final poll in November conducted by CNN/ORC listed the results as three percent for Johnson and one percent for Stein, with the actual results being closer to .99 percent for Johnson and 0.36 percent for Stein.
Brown added that given the unique situation for this election, Stein and Johnson may have more success in the polling booths this go-round, especially because both nominees are repeat candidates, which gives them a familiarity aspect among voters, but also wrote that polling history suggests that both candidates are likely to underperform in the polls in the final vote.
‘It’s not a wasted vote to vote your values…’
In spite of the statistics that seem to illustrate an impending negative outcome for the third party tickets, proponents of those parties remain consistent in their optimism. To the third partiers, there is no such thing as a wasted vote.
“It’s not a wasted vote to vote your values because that’s what the vote was intended to be,” Culver said. “You know, if you’re not voting your values then you’re sort of betraying the whole effort of democracy that our country was built on. You will only be perpetuating what you have by voting that way.”
The third parties’ messages are simple: continuing the same pattern of American politics can only lead to the same results, it is only when voters decide that they are ready for change that changes will come.
“Civic participation requires civic responsibility, and that’s where it’s a world full of people working their tails off but getting a just world in return for that,” Fowles said. “It’s not a welfare world, it’s a world where people fare well–you see what I did there?”