It’s looking more and more likely that the only two candidates on stage at the presidential debates will be Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The Commission on Presidential Debates hasn’t made an official announcement yet of who’s made the cut, but the commission’s rules make it unlikely that anybody but Clinton and Trump will qualify. In an attempt to remedy this, Libertarian candidate Johnson has taken out a full-page newspaper ad to demand an invitation to the debates. And as for the Green Party, there are a number of petitions to let Jill Stein participate in the debates.
According to the commission’s criteria, a candidate must have an average of 15 percent support in the polls in order to qualify for the debates. A candidate’s poll standing is calculated by averaging out their numbers in the most recent surveys from five pre-selected polling firms: CBS/New York Times, CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, NBC-Wall Street Journal and Fox News.
Stein has received between two and four percent support in the most recent surveys from those pollsters (Johnson is between seven and nine percent). Unless a poll is released in the next week showing her at, say, 98 percent support, she’s almost certainly not going to make the cut for the debate.
Stein and her supporters aren’t happy about this, and have launched several petitions to the debate commission in a last-ditch effort to get her onto that stage. The most notable one is on Stein's own campaign website. It’s based on the premise that the commission used improper criteria to decide who to invite, and should instead allow any candidate who has “qualified for enough state ballots to be a choice for a majority of voters” to participate in the debate. That petition currently has around 108,000 signatures.
There’s also a petition over at Change.org calling for Stein’s inclusion at the debates. The landing page for it declares that “we the people will never vote for Hillary Clinton” and, likewise, that “we are not afraid of Donald Trump.” The petition reads, in its entirety, “Include Jill Stein in the presidential debates,” and about 64,000 people have signed it.
That’s not all: Some of the liberal activists at MoveOn.org are also calling upon the commission to invite Stein, and have launched a petition that currently has around 4,227 signatures.
In all honesty, it’s unlikely that any of these petitions will work. Part of this is due to their tone: two of them essentially accused the Commission on Presidential Debates of being a tool of the Democratic and Republican parties. But it is the commission that the petitions are addressed to and which will make the final decision on who to invite, and as a general rule, accusing somebody of being a partisan hack isn’t an effective way to convince them to adopt your point of view.
Moreover, none of those petitions offer much of a substantive reason why the commission should deviate from the criteria it laid out months ago to decide who should and shouldn’t be invited to the debates. The commission presumably thought about that criteria before settling on it, and the fact that some candidates won't make the cut isn't a sufficient reason to change it.
Bernie Sanders — the other leftist rabble-rouser in this election — was only polling at 5 percent after he announced his campaign. By the end of the primary, he had 49 percent support in Democratic polls. This is because he was able to expand his base, appeal to a broader electorate and build a sustained political movement. Stein hasn’t been able to do any of that, and the truth is that her inability to break out of the low single-digits isn’t the result of a conspiracy, or rigged polls, or the two-party duopoly. It’s the result of her own limitations as a candidate.
Still, an election is worth nothing if not to let your voice be heard, and if these petitions gather enough signatures (and likewise, if the exclusion of Stein from the debates results in enough widespread outrage) that could just be enough for the commission to reconsider its debate criteria next time around.