Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Don’t Make the Cut for First Debate

September 16, 2016 Updated: September 16, 2016

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein have been excluded from the first debate after not reaching the threshold of 15 percent support in the polls averaged between five polls taken by national networks. 

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced on Friday afternoon that the two third-party candidates would not join Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump on the debate stage—a major setback for both campaigns.

Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The commission said Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been formally invited to participate in the first presidential debate later this month, while their running mates, Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, have been invited to participate in the vice presidential debate on Oct. 4.

“The Board determined that the polling averages called for in the third criterion are as follows: Hillary Clinton (43%), Donald Trump (40.4%), Gary Johnson (8.4%) and Jill Stein (3.2%),” the Commission said in a statement. 

In order for Johnson or Stein to qualify for the first debate, they would have had to average 15 percent or more. 

“No other candidates satisfied the criteria for inclusion in the September 26 and October 4 debates. The criteria will be reapplied to all candidates in advance of the second and third presidential debates,” the statement continued.

No third party candidate has qualified to participate in a national debate since the 1992 election season when businessman Ross Perot debated with George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 

“I would say I am surprised that the CPD has chosen to exclude me from the first debate, but I’m not,” Johnson’s campaign said in a statement.

“The only time a third candidate has been allowed on the stage was 1992, when both parties wanted him on the stage for their own purposes. It should be noted that, when [Ross] Perot was allowed on the stage, polls showed his support to be in single digits, below where Johnson and Weld are currently polling” he said.

In 1992, Perot got 18 percent of the  popular vote, although he didn’t get any votes in the electoral college. 

In an op-ed by Stein in The Guardian on Sept. 6, she wrote that excluding Johnson and her from the debates was “undemocratic” and that the CPD was “phony.”

“Consider that 76% of Americans want the presidential debates to include Gary Johnson and me. Yet the phony Commission on Presidential Debates is trying to rob voters of the open debates they want,” she wrote. 

“The CPD is a thinly disguised scheme to protect the two establishment parties from competition, and perpetuates a political system controlled by the wealthy and big business interests,” the op-ed continued.