With the rise of a multitude of political parties, some campaign debate organizers are beginning to include third party candidates in their public debates. However, these third party candidates have been ignored in campaign debate literature. This study analyzed the transcripts of three campaign debates that included third party candidates, using muted group theory to understand the impact of third party candidates in campaign debates. The analysis demonstrates that third party candidates experience the communication obstacles of muted groups.

Since World War II, party affiliation among U.S. voters and straight-ticket voting has been on the decline (Miller & Shanks, 1996). Fewer and fewer people vote, perhaps because they feel their vote doesn’t make a difference, they think that politics is inherently corrupt, or they just don’t care. In this vacuum of political disaffection and apathy, a large number of independent parties have sprung up, seeking to revitalize voters by offering them alternative visions of government and alternative choices for elected officials. At present more than 100 independent parties can be identified in the US, some operating in only very circumscribed regions or with very narrow platforms (Sachs, 2003). However, these parties on a large or small scale manage to place their candidates on ballots and attempt to garner limited media attention for their causes. As some of these parties have gained at least local prominence, they have been included in campaign debates, although rarely on the presidential level (with the exception of Ross Perot in 1992 and John Anderson in 1980). Since our nation is so deeply entrenched in a two-party system, these alternative candidates are viewed with suspicion by major parties who see them as threats to their own electability because they are perceived as spoilers, stealing the votes that somehow should belong to one or the other of the major candidates. In this paper, I will refer to any candidate who is not affiliated with the two major parties as “third party.” The purpose of this study is to explore how inclusion of third party candidates in campaign debates affects the dynamics of the debate. Literature Review As pointed out by McKinney and Carlin (in press

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License