By Eric McClure

img_0369The recent poll numbers of third party presidential candidates don’t appear to be the foundation for a shake-up in the 2016 presidential race in Michigan.

As of Oct. 23 in Michigan, Democrat Hillary Clinton polled 43.8 percent and Republican Donald Trump polled 35 percent, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of polling data. Libertarian Gary Johnson polled 7.5 percent and Green Party Jill Stein polled 3 percent.

Despite their poll numbers, the appeal of both Johnson and Stein might have more to do with who they aren’t rather than with their messages and platforms.

“This is an election cycle where the two major party nominees both have very high personal negatives,” said John Clark, chair of the WMU political science department.

In regard to why some voters might be considering a vote for either Johnson or Stein, “It’s probably less because they know much about them and more because they’re simply not Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump,” Clark said.

Johnson and Stein also face an uphill battle that all third party candidates must overcome during an election, in order to be a viable candidate for voters.

“People don’t really know very much about their parties and they certainly don’t know very much about the candidates,” Clark said. “In many instances, they don’t have really much of any idea of the difference between the Libertarian Party and the Green Party.”

Even if Johnson and Stein can gain enough recognition and traction among voters, the chances of seeing poll numbers translate into a sizeable share of Michigan’s presidential vote isn’t likely.

“Third parties tend to have a little bit higher polling number compared to actual votes,” said Peter Wielhouwer, WMU associate professor of political science. “In a poll, people will say ‘Yes, I’d rather have Gary Johnson’, but come Election Day, they’re not highly motivated because they know he’s not going to win.”

Current polling suggests that at most, Johnson and Stein might narrow the margin of victory for either Clinton or Trump in Michigan.

“I don’t accept the premise that a third party candidate will win in Michigan and that the Democrats or the Republicans would lose Michigan. I think it’s pretty clear that one of them will win Michigan and its electoral votes,” Wielhouwer said.

Even though the path forward looks bleak, supporters of Johnson and Stein aren’t eager to turn to either Clinton or Trump.

“Both parties have pretty much failed to live up to their platforms this election cycle,” said Hunter Mauk, a WMU senior majoring in chemical engineering, who voted for Johnson in 2012 but is still undecided between Johnson and Trump this year.

Mauk feels that he’s at a crossroads in his decision process.

“Do I vote for Gary Johnson and give the Libertarian Party relevance going forward, or do I try to support Trump in Michigan?” Mauk said.

Joshua Beere, 22, of Kalamazoo is supporting Jill Stein for president.

“I lean towards the Green Party, because I feel that the Democratic Party has all but abandoned the Left in this country in an effort to please their donors and stay in power,” Beere said. “I think the Left needs a party that will really represent them and the people in general.”

In response to some who might suggest that voting for a third party candidate is a wasted vote, Beere said, “I like to quote the Joker, ‘It’s not about winning, it’s about sending a message.’”

Others are still undecided as to whether or not they will vote at all.

“I’m on the fence about if I even want to vote in this election,” said Elizabeth Wills, a WMU junior majoring in forensic psychology. “Neither candidate we have to choose from is worthy of that position. We can do better than this.”

Wills is also skeptical of voting for a third party candidate.

“In some respects I can see the ‘throwing away my vote’ argument, but then I’m chastised for not voting, as well,” Wills said. “It seems as though you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”