As the 2020 presidential election is now less than four months away, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen are registering support in national polls, signaling that their respective messages resonate with a segment of voters frustrated with Democrats and Republicans.
"The two governing parties are presiding over a failed state. The coronavirus epidemic, the climate meltdown, inequality with declining working-class life expectancies and a nuclear arms race out of control with none of the candidates talking about it," Hawkins, 67, who co-founded the U.S. Green Party in the 1990s, toldNewsweekin an interview. "So, we need to go in another direction."
Jorgensen, 63, has voiced similar frustration. "There is an ugly two-headed monster ruling our country who is destroying our economy, invading our privacy, and eating away our rights," a recent campaign email for the candidate said, taking aim at Republicans and Democrats.
The Libertarian candidate toldNewsweekthat she doesn't see a big difference between President Donald Trump, the incumbent Republican, and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
"My criticisms are the same for both," she said. "Both candidates want to spend more of our money instead of allowing us to make our own decisions. Both are war hawks. Trump promised to bring the troops home, but he hasn't. Biden certainly isn't going to do that either."
Polling conducted by CNBC/Change Research from July 10 to 12 showed Hawkins with support from 2 percent of respondents, while Jorgensen was backed by 3 percent. Although that's marginal compared to the 51 percent support for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and the 41 percent for Republican incumbent President Donald Trump, even a few percent could sway what ultimately could become a close election. Separate polling this month by Redfield & Wilton Strategies showed Hawkins with 1 percent support, while Jorgensen was backed by 2 percent of respondents.
Hawkins spoke optimistically about the recent polls, noting that support for him has already doubled from 1 percent to 2 percent. "There's still time if we keep growing at that rate. It's a long shot, no doubt, but we do expect to impact the debate," he said.
The Green Party candidate explained that he believes "the pieces" are there for a successful third party to grow more prominent in U.S. politics. "There's obviously a fissure in the Democratic Party between the progressives and the corporate wing," he said.
The Green Party positions itself to the left of the Democratic Party, with Hawkins highlighting his differences with progressives such as former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Meanwhile, Libertarians align with more conservative principles when it comes to the economy, while being liberal socially due to their strong belief in individual freedoms.
"I don't want the government making choices for you. I want you to have lots of choices provided by a wealth of free market alternatives, and to make those choices for yourself, for your family, and for your business," Jorgensen explained. She emphasized that she wants to keep taxes and government spending down, end the war on drugs, bring the troops home and "end cronyism in the energy business" while allowing nuclear-power initiatives to move forward.
Hawkins pointed out that Greens have some overlap with Libertarians on social issues, such as decriminalizing drugs and ending U.S. involvement in foreign conflicts. But he said overall, "it's not a realistic view of reality" as it's too "individualistic."
"But there are some issues we agree on—drug policy reform, staying out of stupid foreign wars, civil liberties, mass surveillance unwarranted by the state, warrantless surveillance," Hawkins said. He added that he wants to focus his campaign on addressing concerns about the ongoing pandemic, pushing for serious action on climate change and pushing for an end to the international nuclear arms race.
In 2016, some political analysts pointed to Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson as having shifted the race in Trump's favor. The president narrowly beat former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in several key swing states, where the votes won by Johnson and Stein made up the difference. In total, the Libertarian received nearly 4.5 millions votes (3.28 percent) while the Green candidate received nearly 1.5 million (1.07 percent).
Many Republicans and Democrats have warned about the possibility of a similar impact from third-party candidates this upcoming election. But Hawkins and Jorgensen are dismissive of these concerns, pointing out that people should vote for who they actually support the most. Additionally, it's not at all clear that those who voted for third-party candidates would have cast a ballot for Trump or Clinton if the other options were not available.
"Don't waste your vote on the status quo. Vote for real change for real people," Jorgensen said, saying that Republicans and Democrats only put forward that criticism because they "don't want to compete with Libertarians."
"Now they want to blame the little Green Party. You know, that's just not being realistic. It's an excuse, not an answer to the spoiler problem," Hawkins said when asked about the criticism Stein's campaign received from Democrats back in 2016. Taking aim at Democrats and Trump, Hawkins said it won't be his fault if Biden loses in November.
Trump's "going to have a quarter of a million COVID deaths and an economic depression by the time the election comes around," he said. "I mean if the Democrats can't beat that, it's not our fault at the Green Party, it's their own damn fault. Really, I mean come on."
"I would say to voters, you know, make yourself heard. Vote for what you want and make the politicians come to you," he said.
Hawkins, a longtime activist and trade unionist, is no stranger to running long-shot campaigns. Although he has never won, he believes his campaigns have helped shift the conversation in a leftward direction.
Like Hawkins, Jorgensen, an academic with a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology, has run in several previous elections, but she has not won. She was her party's vice presidential candidate in 1996, running alongside Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne. Their ticket garnered about 0.5 percent of the popular vote.
"We can have a small, libertarian government—but only if we vote for it. It's really that simple," Jorgensen said.
Hawkins, who recognizes his campaign is more palpable to those on the political left, said a vote for Biden is a vote against progressive goals. "If you vote for Biden, you're voting against those things," he said. "You'll get lost in the sauce."