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Lesson Plans

Jill Stein and the role of third party candidates in presidential elections

August 24, 2016

Full Lesson

Essential question

What is the importance of parties to our political system?

The third party candidate Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party says she remains the only candidate in the presidential race who is not corrupted by lobbyists’ money, corporate money or super PACs.

“We’re in a very different moment now historically than we were in 2000, because the majority of American voters have rejected both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump,” Stein said, “They’re the most disliked and untrusted candidates for president in our history.”

Stein, a physician and advocate who has twice run for governor of Massachusetts, was elected to local office twice in her town of Lexington. She’s hoping to capitalize on momentum from disenfranchised Sen. Bernie Sanders’s supporters, thanks, in part, to her promises of a 100 percent renewable energy plan; a “Medicare-for-all” single-payer health plan; and debt-free higher public education.

But have third party candidates made a difference in U.S. history?

One recent example of third parties having an impact on the race took place in the 2000 election. Polling at the time suggested that if Green Party nominee Ralph Nader was not in the race, many of his supporters would have voted for Democrat Al Gore, who ultimately lost to Republican George W. Bush.

Stein is currently polling at only 3.4 percent nationally, too low to qualify her for the presidential debates, which begin in late September — a fact she’s pushing to change.

“Americans have not only a right to vote, but a right to know who we can vote for. So we’re pushing for opening up the debates. And then let’s see how the chips fall,” Stein said.

Key terms

Green Party — a formally organized political party based on the principles of green politics, such as social justice, environmentalism and nonviolence

third party candidate — a candidate who does not belong to one of the two main US political parties, the Republicans or the Democrats. It can also include independents and write-in candidates

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. How many people are currently running for president?
  2. What does it mean when we say the U.S. is a two-party system?
  3. Besides Republican and Democrat, name some other political parties.
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Do you think the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have a considerable degree of unpopularity within their own parties will drive more people to vote for third party candidates?
  2. What do you think about Stein’s plan to move the U.S. to a green energy economy? Do you support the idea? Explain.
  3. How do third party candidates impact elections? Can you think of any historical examples?