Why is Evan McMullin not in the presidential debate?


Evan McMullin has become the latest hyped third-party alternative to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Last week, a poll in Utah showed McMullin drew the support of 22% of voters while Trump and Clinton each drew 26% — putting McMullin within the margin-of-error. 

But to have made the final presidential debate between Clinton and Trump on Wednesday night, McMullin, a Mormon, needed a much larger show of support than this late surge among fellow Utahans.

In order to qualify for a presidential debate, the presidential candidate must be able to win an electoral college majority. That requires being on the ballot in enough states to win 270 electoral votes. McMullin is on the ballot in 11 states that collectively total 75 electoral votes. In seven other states, votes with McMullin's name written in will be valid. Elsewhere, a write-in vote for McMullin may not count.

And even if McMullin was on the ballot in enough states to win the electoral college, it would have been impossible for the former CIA operative to meet the polling requirement. The Commission on Presidential Debates requires debate participants have the "support of at least 15% of the national electorate as determined by five selected national polling organizations." Most national pollsters do not include McMullin in their national opinion surveys.

Rick Bowmer/AP

Supporters of Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson were hopeful their candidate would reach the 15% threshold before the first presidential debate. While some polls scored Johnson within a few percentage points, his average across polls never rose into the double-digits. 

And overall, third-party support has dropped. At the beginning of September, Johnson and Green presidential nominee Jill Stein drew more than 12% combined support in the polls. Now, they collectively draw the support of less than 9% of voters.

While McMullin will never have the opportunity to present himself to millions of Americans at once, his campaign has shown it can make a serious play at Utah, a deeply Republican state. A new poll shows McMullin neck-and-neck with Clinton and Trump in his home state.