The Commission on Presidential Debates announced that Gary Johnson and Jill Stein won't debate at the first presidential forum on Sept. 26, as they both failed to reach the minimum level of polling support required. The commission requires candidates to have an average of 15 percent support in public opinion surveys from five pre-selected pollsters, but Johnson and Stein's averages stood at just 8.4 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively, the commission announced. Both are still eligible to qualify for the second and third presidential debates if their polling numbers tick upward.
"Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Tim Kaine, and Donald Trump and his running mate, Mike Pence, qualify to participate in the September 26 presidential debate and the October 4 vice-presidential debate, respectively," the commission announced on Friday. "No other candidates satisfied the criteria for inclusion in the September 26 and October 4 debates."
The announcement is a major setback for Stein and Johnson. Both had hoped to resuscitate their fledgling campaigns with an appearance at the forums, and both had launched petitions demanding that the commission include them at the debates. But ultimately, the commission invited candidates based on the criteria it outlined months ago, and neither Stein nor Johnson were able to fully satisfy that criteria.
The commission's decision also applies to the lone vice presidential debate: Tim Kaine and Mike Pence will square off against each other, but Gary Johnson and Jill Stein's running mates, Bill Weld and Ajamu Baraka, won't be invited to the forum.
The commission had three requirements for candidates who wished to participate in the debates. In addition to the polling minimum, candidates needed to be constitutionally eligible for the presidency and have their name on enough state ballots to win an electoral college majority. Stein and Johnson did meet those latter two requirements.
The first presidential debate will be held on September 26th, followed by a vice presidential forum on October 4th. There will be two more presidential debates after that, and if Johnson and Stein's numbers improve between now and then, they could conceivably be invited to one or both of them.
And yet the chances of this happening are diminished by the fact that they won't be at the first debate. The commission's decision to exclude Stein and Johnson deprives both candidates of valuable publicity at a high-profile televised event; had they been allowed to participate, that exposure could have helped them improve their positions in the polls. As it stands, both will have to find other ways to pick up steam if they want to take the debate stage with Clinton and Trump.