Why is Gary Johnson not in the first presidential debate?


More than half of Americans want Gary Johnson to debate. And polls show him drawing almost 10% of the vote. But the Libertarian presidential nominee is not on track to appear alongside Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at the first debate on Sept. 26 at Hofstra University in New York. 

Johnson's failure to qualify for the debates has been long predicted. His campaign manager said recently that reaching the threshold was "unrealistic." 

But that did not stop the former New Mexico governor from trying. In August, he kicked off a "$15 for 15" fundraising campaign in an attempt to reach 15% support in the polls — the threshold he's required to reach in an average of five polls in order to participate in the debate. The last third-party candidate to appear in a presidential debate was Ross Perot in 1992.

The Libertarian has said participation in the debates will make or break his campaign. In a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates, Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein said exclusion from the debates was an "electoral death sentence." The lawsuit was unsuccessful. 

It is unclear where Johnson will go from here. Polling suggests there is a chance Johnson could play spoiler by winning one or two small western states and forcing the election to the House of Representatives. But the probability of this is very small. If Johnson manages to draw 5% of the vote, he will qualify the Libertarian party for public election funding in 2020. This would provide a financial boost to America's relatively small yet most viable third party.