On January 20, barring any extraordinary circumstances, 2016 Republican candidate Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. Needless to say, this means that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson will not be inaugurated. There are a multitude of reasons for this, some of which are common to all third-party candidates, some of which affect the Libertarian Party in particular, and some of which are specific to the Johnson himself. Let us examine all of them in that order and see why Johnson not only lost, but failed to earn 5 percent of the vote against two of the least popular major-party candidates ever to seek the Presidency.

I. All Third Parties

a. Duverger’s Law

Duverger’s Law holds that plurality-rule elections (such as first past the post) structured within single-member districts tend to favor a two-party system. Duverger suggests two reasons for this; some smaller parties ally together to make a stronger party, and other smaller parties fail because voters abandon them. A purely statistical restrictive feature is that because the system rewards only the winner in each district with political power, a party which consistently loses will never gain political power, even if it receives a sizable minority of votes. There is also the matter of polarization; if a large group of voters support a candidate who is strongly opposed by another large group of voters, defeating that candidate is easier if they do not split their votes among multiple candidates. Furthermore, evolutionary psychology suggests a possible genetic basis for a left-right two-party political system.

b. Electoral College

The American system for electing presidents contains an additional barrier to third parties: the Electoral College. Rather than a direct popular vote, the winner of the popular vote in each state gains a number of electors which depends on the population of that state. This amplifies the effect of Duverger’s Law by making all losing votes in each state worthless for gaining the Presidency. This effect was seen in the 1992 election, when Ross Perot earned 18.9 percent of the national popular vote but failed to earn any electoral votes, as he did not come in first place in any state. This result has made people in recent elections more likely to view third-party campaigns as a wasted effort. Another historical example is the 1912 election, in which Theodore Roosevelt’s candidacy caused Woodrow Wilson to win far more electoral votes than his popular vote percentage would suggest.

c. Media Coverage

If a candidate is unlikely to achieve political power, then it makes little sense for the media to devote significant airtime to covering that candidate’s campaign, activities, and policy positions. Diverting media to a third-party campaign might also incur the wrath of the major parties, who could view such a move as a conspiracy between the media and the third party to upset the established order and respond with censorship measures. With the advent of the Internet and social media, this barrier is breaking down, but it is not yet gone.

d. Funding

Part of the purpose of funding a political campaign is quid pro quo; in other words, wealthy donors expect something in return for their patronage. In fact, studies show that there is no better return on investment for a corporation’s capital resources than to bribe politicians, which can generally only be done legally by funding their campaigns or their SuperPACs. If a candidate and/or party is unlikely to achieve political power, then funding them is a waste of capital. Furthermore, funding them may invite a backlash from one’s fellow oligarchs, who do not wish to see the system that benefits them be upended by a new political force.

e. Ballot Access

Like most groups which manage to consolidate power, the Republicans and Democrats abuse it. Regardless of whatever disagreements they have, they routinely agree that no other party should gain a foothold in the institutions of power and act in concert accordingly. The most common way of doing this is to pass ballot access laws which greatly favor the two major parties. This is done to burden third parties with expensive and time-consuming efforts to gain thousands of petition signatures in order to gain or keep ballot access. The third parties which cannot succeed in this are eliminated from the ballot and thus eliminated from political contention. Those which do succeed are greatly weakened by the loss of effort, money, and time which could have been spent campaigning for office if there were not such onerous requirements for ballot access.

f. Debate Access

Just as the establishment media is loathe to devote coverage to alternative parties for the reasons discussed above, they also collude with the major parties to deny access to televised general election debates. Since the 1988 election, the Republicans and Democrats have used the Commission on Presidential Debates that they created to effectively silence third-party candidates in general election debates (with the exception of Perot in 1992, but this was only because both major-party candidates believed that Perot’s presence was in their self-interest). This creates the appearance in the minds of voters that the two major-party candidates are the only legitimate choices.

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