Commentary by Marc Lamont Hill, published in The Guardian, Thursday, Aug 18, 2016
The stakes of Wednesday night’s Green Party town hall on CNN [excerpts here on CNN] were high – third-party candidates are rarely allowed entry into the corporate media universe, which thrives on the false narrative that only two parties exist here in the United States. This was perhaps the only opportunity the presidential candidate I have endorsed – Jill Stein – and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, to have the ear of a large portion of the mainstream American electorate. There was little room for error.
Watch excerpts of the 70-minute town hall meeting on CNN with Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka here. And read three related articles further below.
They spent little time directly criticizing Donald Trump. This was a wise move, since virtually no one among Stein’s potential base of support is considering Trump as a viable option. Instead, she focused on Hillary Clinton.
At a moment where the Clinton campaign is still attempting to secure the support of frustrated Bernie Sanders primary voters, Stein demonstrated that Clinton’s brand of liberalism does not represent the tone or spirit of the Sanders campaign. By highlighting Clinton’s pro-corporate politics and active role in hawkish foreign policy, Stein raised considerable doubt about Clinton’s leftist bona fides.
“I will have trouble sleeping at night if Donald Trump is elected,” Stein said. “I will also have trouble sleeping at night if Hillary Clinton is elected.”
Throughout the event, both Stein and Baraka rightly refuted the idea that superficial identity politics are enough to constitute a progressive movement. Stein destroyed the notion that a vote for Clinton is a feminist move, as Clinton’s pro-war stances and neoliberal economic policies have compromised the lives and prosperity of women and families around the globe. Baraka drew from Barack Obama’s presidential record to show that electing a black president has not signaled a turn away from anti-black racism at the systemic or interpersonal levels.
Stein also raised doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness. While these arguments are not new, they carried a different level of veracity when separated from the hypocritical and sexist “crooked Hillary” rhetoric of the Trump campaign. Drawing from Clinton’s own anti-Trump playbook, Stein used Clinton’s email scandal and missteps abroad as a springboard to question Clinton’s judgment.
Of course, such critiques would have been more effective if the possibility of a nuclear armed Trump weren’t lingering in the back of voter’s minds, but they nonetheless focused appropriate scrutiny to the secretary’s actions.
But Stein and Baraka did not merely tell voters what to vote against, they also gave them something to vote for.
Throughout the night, the candidates used their time to articulate the Green party’s vision for the future. Specifically, Stein talked about workable plans to create peace in the Middle East, a plan that includes nuclear disarmament, a call to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a loosening of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization’s economic strangleholds on the globe’s most vulnerable nations.
Baraka offered a workable vision of a nation without state violence, inner cities without police as occupying forces and vulnerable citizens not viewed as enemy combatants. For the first time since Bernie Sanders stepped out of the Democratic race, the American public was given an opportunity to dream out loud for a few hours about freedom, justice and true democracy.
Despite the town hall’s success, the Green party has a long way to go to snag a significant slice of undecided, Independent and Clinton-leaning voters. The challenge of the Stein-Baraka campaign will be to convince voters of a long-term political vision, one that isn’t prisoner to our collective obsession with individual elections or hyperbolic fear of particular candidates.
They will have to persuade voters to believe that the two-party system, when underwritten by endless corporate money, does not offer the “lesser of two evils” but a fundamental threat to democracy itself. Surely, they have a long way to go to achieve these goals. But they’ve made an incredible start.
Marc Lamont Hill is Distinguished Professor of Africana Studies at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author of ‘Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, From Ferguson to Flint and Beyond’. He hosts a new, weekly, late-night television program on the arts and politics called VH1 Live!.
Morehouse College is a private, all-male, liberal arts, historically black college located in Atlanta, in the U.S. state of Georgia. The College assumes special responsibility for teaching the history and culture of black people. Past graduates include Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
* Prime time Green, by Jeffrey St. Clair, chief editor of CounterPunch, Aug 19, 2016
* Marc Lamont Hill on voting Green, not being afraid of Trump: ‘We can afford to lose an election; we can’t afford to lose our values’, by Kirsten West Savali, published in The Root, Aug 7, 2016
* How the phrasing of a pollster’s question hobbles third parties
By Sam Husseini, Consortium News, August 18, 2016
By asking Americans who they expect to vote for rather than who they want to be president, pollsters skew the numbers in favor of major-party candidates and help exclude third-party challengers from crucial debates.
This week, the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced what polls it will utilize in excluding candidates from its debates. The CPD says candidates like the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein must get 15 per cent in polls conducted by “five national public opinion polling organizations” — ABC/Washington Post, CBS/New York Times, CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, Fox News, and NBC/Wall Street Journal.
Not only — as several have correctly argued — is the 15 per cent threshold arbitrary and exclusionary, but these polls don’t actually ask voter preferences at all. They all ask “If the presidential election were being held today for whom would you vote?” or some minor variation of that. Who you want or prefer and what you would do in the voting booth may be very different things. These “public opinion polls” don’t actually measure opinion — they are non-opinion polls. They ask a false hypothetical regarding a future action.
A better public opinion question would be: “Who do you want to be president” or “Who do you prefer to be president?” or “Who is your first choice to be president?”
By contrast, the question that the CPD relies on from these media organizations — if held today, who would you vote for — is a tactical question. As has become increasingly clear, there are many people who would like Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party nominee Jill Stein to be president. However, many who fear Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are currently planning to vote for Clinton or Trump (based on who they judge to be the “lesser evil”).
Each of the dominant candidates is using fear of the other to prevent public opinion from manifesting itself for possible third-party candidates. Our voting system puts voters in a bind, making it difficult for them to vote their true preference. But public opinion polling should be a relief from that. Such polling should find out what the public thinks and wants — especially if the electoral system doesn’t allow for those choices. But that’s not what’s happening. The “tracking” poll question that’s being used over and over and obsessed over by all these organizations is actually disguising public opinion.
And then the CPD, acting on behalf of the two major parties, is using that to exclude third-party candidates from the debates, further marginalizing any public thinking that questions the establishment parties.
When some proponents of a more open process suggested alternative criteria for deciding who to include in presidential debates, such as determining if a majority of respondents wanted a third-party candidate in the debates, the heads of the CPD rejected the effort. Then-CPD Director and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson said: “The issue is who do you want to be president. It’s not who do you want to do a dress rehearsal and see who can be the cutest at the debate.”
Similarly, Paul Kirk, the then-co-chair of the CPD (now co-chairman emeritus) and former head of the Democratic National Committee, said: “It’s a matter of entertainment vs. the serious question of who would you prefer to be president of the United States.”
But those comments from CPD officials mean that even the CPD has basically asked for the “who do you want/prefer to be president” question to be used, rather than the “if the election were held today, who would you vote for” formulation.
So for the Commission on Presidential Debates to fulfill the very criteria it has set for itself, the “serious question” of “who would you prefer to be president” should be the polling question used as the basis for inclusion in any debates that group sponsors.
In the closing days of the 2000 election, I got a funder to put up the money for a poll which basically found that numbers for candidates Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader doubled if the question was who the voter preferred to be president regardless of their chances of winning, rather than the standard “If the election were held today, who would you vote for.”
If that proportion were to hold, it would mean the actual numbers for Johnson and Stein are around 18 and 10 per cent support respectively. But why should we speculate? Why don’t “public opinion” pollsters actual ask the public what they want?
Sam Husseini is founder of VotePact.org, which encourages disenchanted Democrats and Republicans to pair up and vote for the third party candidates they most want. [This story was originally published at https://husseini.posthaven.com/how-presidential-non-opinion-polls-drive-down-third-party-numbers-and-facilitate-debate-exclusion]
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