Teach About U.S. Blog

Young Adults and Third Party Options

Young Adults and Third Party Options

by Tobias Luthe -
Number of replies: 0

gary-johnson.jpgOver the last two weeks the very emotional race for the White House has not become less intensive. But no matter what both candidates do, they remain very unpopular presidential nominees for many Americans. In a recent Huffington Post poll on the candidates' popularity scores Americans expressed their dissatisfaction for Clinton (54.1% unfavorable) and Trump (60.1% unfavorable). Neither candidate has come even close to a favorable rating of 50% or more. Back in 2008, the two major presidential nominees Barack Obama and John McCain enjoyed far more support from the American public. A month before the election Obama’s favorability ratings reached 61% and McCain’s 57%. But the current candidates rather polarize American society instead of being able to unite the country. Due to their unpopularity, a number of students here in Minneapolis tend to look for third party options in the race for the White House.

(Photo: Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party's nominee for President of the United States in the 2016 election. He served as the 29th Governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003 as a member of the Republican party. Photo credit: Gary Johnson)

During the primaries of the Democratic Party, the self-appointed “socialist” Bernie Sanders represented a possible new chapter of American politics for younger people, in particular college students. After Sander’s defeat in the primary process and in spite of his pledged support for Secretary Clinton, his  former supporters at my university think about voting for an independent candidate. Gary Johnson, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, has won support among them because he has been able to portray himself as a serious third party option. In mid-September, 8.9% of Americans expressed their support for him in ten different nationwide polls conducted from September 8 until September 21.

But this switch from Sanders to Johnson by young people is also surprising to a certain degree because both politicians only share similar opinions on a couple of social issues like marriage equality or the legal use marijuana at home. When it comes to more controversial topics like abortion, Johnson also appeals to more conservative voters by being against late-term abortions or using tax dollars for such procedures although he also wants to respect the freedom and choice of women at the same time.

Johnson also differs from Sanders on educational issues. Sanders advocated free college education which motivated many young adults to join his camp. In the U.S., college education is extremely expensive in comparison to Germany, and it is not unusual that people spend multiple $10,000 per year. Thus, students often  rely on student loans provided by the federal government, which are supposed to finance their stay at the university. After graduation, former students have to pay back substantial loans. Johnson opposes free college educatiin, but he also opposes these loans. He strongly believes  that the federal government should not pay for anyone's education. Although this seems to be not in the interest of students, a significant number of them still consider voting for Johnson. But how is this possible?

While older voters in the U.S. often care about the label of the party, which gives them a framework for what the different presidential nominees stand for, millennials don’t feel party loyalty. Since they regard both parties and their candidates skeptically, young adults have been constantly looking for alternative voting options. Hence, they also tend to overlook certain ideological contradictions between a candidate like Gary Johnson and their own position. So one gets the impression that young voters care about the candidates' policy goals only to a certain extend. What matters to them is also the candidate’s character and what each of them represents, in Johnson’s case perhaps that he is an outsider making inroads into a close race.


Tobias Luthe is a student in North American Studies focusing on politics and economics at the John-F.-Kennedy-Institut of the Freie Universität Berlin. He is spending the fall and spring semester 2016/17 at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities Minneapolis-Saint Paul.