Third-party presidential candidates should have been included in Tuesday nights debate and in future debates.
Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party and the Green Partys Ralph Nader were excluded from participating by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a commission set up to regulate the debate process.
According to the commission, a candidate must have a theoretical chance of winning the election and must have a national support rate of roughly 15 percent. Nader has a rate of about 5 percent and Buchanan has about 1 percent.
Fifteen percent is too lofty a goal and polls are not the most important factor in determining the effect a candidate can have on an election. Both candidates have established a large enough support base to deserve inclusion.
The Reform Party received more than 5 percent of the votes in the last presidential election, and through federal matching funds policy, it received $12.5 million in taxpayer dollars for campaign use.
Citizens have the right to see where their tax dollars are going. If the government sees the Reform Party deserving of financial support, it should have the chance to deliver its message to voters.
Naders support rate of 5 percent may seem insubstantial when compared to the rates of front-runners Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, but the rate represents a large enough group of supporters. These supporters should not be ignored and neither should their candidate.
Nader may not have a theoretical chance to win the election, but Nader does have the power to sway the election. In some states, Nader may receive enough votes to take a state away from Gore, and many Gore supporters fear that votes for Nader will put Bush in the White House. A similar situation occurred in the 1992 election, in which many feel Ross Perot gave Bill Clinton the election.
If a candidate has the power to potentially change the outcome of the election, he deserves inclusion in the debate. The power of third-party candidates is not always shown in the numbers.
A debate should spark thought and conversation between politicians and the American public. Third-party candidates offer a fresh perspective by focusing on issues that major-party candidates often ignore. If they were included in the debates, voters could find out the opinions of both Gore and Bush on issues they tend to sweep under the rug.
Many Americans are interested in moving away from the current two-party system. Nader and Buchanan both cited a recent poll in which 64 percent said they wanted to see all four candidates included in the debate. More young Americans might vote if they could see all their options.
Our country prides itself on the notion that anyone can be president, but only candidates with enough money to use the media in their campaign can earn 15 percent of the vote.
Voters have the right to be informed of all their options, and Nader and Buchanan have the right to a spot behind the podium.