The polls are open, the first ballots have been cast, and the race is in full swing. The cameras are on, the candidates busy in their campaign headquarters, and the pundits are screaming predictions left and right. Will it be Clinton? Will it be Trump? Formany Americans (and perhaps even more of those of us abroad following this election) itis easy to forget thatthere are parties and candidates other than Democrats or Republicans.It is not surprising since the majority of the U.S. electorate considers itself as "independent".

Rise of the Underdogs

It can be thus argued that one of the most significant developments in this elections cycle has been the disruption caused by Bernie Sander's candidacy. Whether you like him or not, it is undeniable that his run represented the hopes of many of those who are disillusioned with the usual choices offered by the parties of always. In particular, progressives and leftists across the U.S. were made to believe that he could be a viable alternative, and he had a good run. When he folded to Hillary Clinton after the primaries, it led to a surge of interest in the third-party alternatives.

The ones which have been most appealing to the US public have been Jill Stein of the Green Party, and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party.

While these two underdogs share their position as least favourites, they come from widely different backgrounds and advocate radically different platforms. Regardless, both candidates and parties have cause for optimism. Never before in our lifetimes have third parties been as much part of the conversation as this election cycle.

It is the first time that third-party candidates were given space and face-time by major media outlets, albeit it wasalmost insignificant ifcompared to that given to coverage of Clinton and Trump. It is also the first time that a third-party candidate may get more than five percent of the vote.

Current Polls

Where does each of these candidates currently stand? RealClearPolitics has placed Jill Stein's as currently being around 2%, while Gary Johnson is likely to be closer to the 4.8% mark.

As it stands, it seems that Johnson has a higher chance of getting the lion share of the independent vote, but this may not turn out to be the case. Hundreds of thousands of disgruntled Democratic voters have vowed to vote Stein over Clinton or Trump. Johnson, instead, is not likely to attract many last minute votes. However, while Johnson is polling at roughly the same numbers as he did in the 2012 election, Ms Stein has increased her popular support from a 0.36% in 2012, corresponding to an almost six-fold increase.

The last aspect to consider is what this says about the U.S. electorate in terms of political presence.The Green and Libertarian parties areopposite in many respects but share the same anti-establishment narrative and support base.

While that of the Green Party is based on communitarian progressives and socialists, the Libertarian Party often attracts elements from political conservatives and elements of the far-right. These are the elements most disgruntled in US politics, and the centrism of the established parties is likely to exacerbate the call further for alternative and third-party candidates.

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