Labor Day is often referred to as the unofficial beginning of the race for the Presidential election held on November 8, 2016. At a minimum, it is almost certainly the final stretch of a race that began over a year ago and now enters its final phase.
Although there have been some ups and downs with convention bounces and gaffes, the polls have settled with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, with a slight lead over businessman Donald Trump, the Republican nominee.
Of course, given the relative unpopularity of the two major party nominees, this could be a year in which the other party nominees could play a significant role in the outcome of this year’s Presidential election. It has certainly happened before. Believe it or not, third-party candidates have won electoral votes or received at least 5 percent of the popular vote 12 times.
The most recent notable one was Ross Perot (Reform Party) who won almost 19 percent of the popular vote. Many believe Perot handed the presidency to President Bill Clinton over then incumbent President George H.W. Bush.
Like most years, there is no shortage of third parties offering candidates for the presidency. They range from the Constitution Party to the Party of Socialism and Liberation. But, most concede that there are two that could make a difference in this year’s election: the Libertarian Party (with nominee former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson); and, the Green Party (with nominee Dr. Jill Stein).
Although the magic number for third parties to participate in the presidential debates is 15 percent, the truth is that in the battleground states even the slightest percentage of votes could make a difference.
One thing is certain. Anyone who says that they can predict what will happen on Nov. 8 is kidding themselves and anyone who listens to them. No one predicted Donald J. Trump would be the Republican presidential nominee over a field of 17 well-funded, talented, and politically savvy candidates. And, no one predicted that 74-year-old socialist Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont would win 22 states during the Democratic nomination process. With the electorate unhappy with the direction of the country by overwhelming margins and a genuine discontent with the major parties’ nominees, the role of the third parties’ candidates is impossible to predict.
Some might argue that there is no way that Trump can win at this point. After all 77 percent of registered voters are young adults under the age of 35, people of color and women. With those kinds of demographics, even the most skilled political prognosticator would have a difficult time figuring out a path to victory for Trump. Yet, those same prognosticators predicted Trump’s political demise week after week during the primary season.
On the other hand, there are Trump supporters that point to the parallels between the Brexit vote in Great Britain and the mood of the electorate in the United States. Few believed that British voters would actually vote to leave the European Union, especially when polls consistently (but admittedly closely) pointed to a vote against Brexit. But, when the votes were counted, it was not really close. The fact was most average Brits did not appreciate regulators in Brussels telling them what kind of teapot they could use in England.
A similar vein of discontent seems to be running throughout much of the United States. This is especially true among many in the so called “rust belt” where average Americans have seen their jobs exported overseas as a result of trade deals pushed through by Washington insiders.
Oddly, the issue of trade deals has been turned on its head in this election. Traditionally, Democrats have led the opposition to such deals, but Secretary Clinton has voted for and supported the most recent trade deals. On the other hand, Republicans have traditionally pushed for such deals. Yet, Trump has made clear his dissatisfaction with the current trade deals and their impact on American jobs.
To bring the issue home, Gov. Mitt Romney lost the last presidential election to President Barack Obama by a swing of 63 Electoral College votes. The states most impacted by these trade deals are Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Three have Republican governors and one has a Republican senator. They have 64 Electoral College votes and all went for President Obama last time. The impact of such a swing of those states is obvious.
Like Brexit voters in Great Britain, voters in these states have a strong independent streak that often is not captured in polls but is definitely reflected at the ballot box. The votes in the primaries show the Trump effect with voters coming out of the woodwork to put him over the top. Watch for NAFTA and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership to emerge in the last days as a major issue, along with immigration.
And then, there is the drip, drip, drip of the emails that threatens to eventually drown any message former Secretary Clinton might have. Add to that the threat of an “October surprise” from Wiki-leaks and it is anyone’s guess regarding what will happen next.
It cannot be overstated — no one knows what happens next, especially with the presidential debates yet to begin. So, do not believe any one who says they can predict how this story ends. It is yet to be written.