Third parties have long struggled to gain a foothold in the United States political system. Since the Election of 1800, America has developed into a two-party system, in which only one of two major political parties has had a chance of winning the presidency. Third parties face many challenges, including the current electoral system. However, some political scientists claim that the largest obstacle facing third party presidential candidates today is lack of participation in the presidential debates.
In 1987, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was formed. The CPD, a nonpartisan organization, sets the criteria for who is allowed to participate in the nationally televised presidential debates. One of the more challenging requirements is that candidates must receive 15% in the national polls in order to secure a spot in the debates. This requirement makes it difficult for third parties to have a voice on the national debate stage. Critics have cited this rule as an effort on behalf of Democratic and Republican parties to exclude third party candidates from the debates. Supporters claim that the debates should be reserved for those candidates who have a realistic chance of winning the presidency.
This case exemplifies the greater question of the nature of political participation in American democracy. Should third party candidates be allowed greater participation in presidential debates?