“But why would you vote third party? Don’t you realize that Trump is an existential threat? It’s not like the Greens will win anyway.”
I’ve heard this dozens of times and in many different ways, but the message is always the same. Substitute Biden for Trump and Libertarian for Green and it still works — though I more often hear words like “disaster” and “horrific” from my conservative friends.
I’d quibble with any of those words — “disaster” or “existential” — because I’ve seen this sort of thing before. Twelve years ago, we were told Obama was coming for our guns and we were facing socialism in our time; today, we still have our guns and health insurance. Four years ago I was confronted with images of nuclear devastation from Trump; today, it seems no nearer. I won’t say I’m a great fan of the way things are, mind, but the solution to our biggest problems doesn’t appear to lie with choosing one presidential candidate over another.
After all, Biden’s no fan of campaign finance reform, and neither is Trump. Both have Tough On Crime reputations; both are opposed to Medicare For All. The number of platform planks these two share is pretty high, when you come right down to brass tacks. There’s not much to choose between them; it’s odium against tedium. Tempting to just stay home.
Plus, none of that answers the question: Why vote third party if they’re not going to win?
It’s a valid point; the Greens aren’t going to win this time around, and it doesn’t look good for the Libertarians either. There’s a chance some Greens or Socialists might take a House seat or two in the Pacific Northwest, and there are several serious Libertarian challengers in Texas, but for president? Massive meteor strike is more probable. Even less likely are such latecomers as the People’s Party or the Unity folks — they may mean well, but at this stage they won’t even get on the ballot.
So why vote for someone that’s not going to win?
Let me turn that around for you: Why vote for someone that is going to win? Is there some special reward for being part of the biggest group? Do you get bragging rights? Seems to me you should only brag if the person who gets elected does what you want them to.
That is the difference, mind. Those people most vocal against third party voting are the ones who really do want the main candidates to win. There are a fair number of people who support the full party platforms, Republican or Democrat. And, while Trump is undeniably odious, he does support industry and the economy; while Biden will likely be no more than a rubber stamp for a Democratic congress, he will at least sign bills. The only people who would object to this are the ones who aren’t being served by either party. From my perspective, that’s most of us.
But I’m just one person; I may be wrong. No doubt there are those who prefer the ACA to Medicare For All, who aren’t in favor of Universal Basic Income, and who still believe in the myth of Common Sense Gun Control. I’m confident there are still people out there who support the War On Drugs despite fifty years of failure, and who can’t imagine anything more effective than harsh sentences and Tough On Crime. Perhaps there are even some people who still think someone somewhere is going to fundamentally alter our society’s approach to abortion after all this time.
In any event, if you approve of the way things are going, and if either Trump or Biden is your preferred candidate, then this article is not for you. Go; vote your conscience; rest assured that I shall do the same.
However, I would just point out that, during the Iowa Caucuses, only about eight percent of Democrats wanted Biden as their candidate; Senator Harris was so thoroughly disliked she withdrew before the first ballot was cast. Polls during the first months of 2020 — and the New Hampshire primary — clearly showed that Biden wasn’t even in most people’s top three. If you would have gladly supported Sanders or Yang or Warren or Klobuchar, you might well have reason to feel disenfranchised. (Quite literally, too; the overwhelming majority of America never got the chance to choose.)
Then too, many Republicans don’t much care for Trump, and he’s the incumbent. A whole bunch spoke up for Biden at the Democratic Convention — and if that doesn’t give you doubts about Trump and Biden, your mind is already well and truly made up.
And yet, we still haven’t addressed that fundamental question: Even if you detest Biden and despise Trump, why bother to vote for anyone else? It’s not as though they have any real chance. Except that isn’t quite right; for third-party candidacies, even a loss can be a major victory. In many states, if they can surpass five percent of the popular vote, they end up on the ballot the next year without having to go through the petition process — an expensive prospect. It’s even possible that the next debates could feature a third or fourth podium.
But the main reason to vote for a third-party candidate is so your vote gets counted. It’s not common knowledge, but in most states, if you write in someone, your vote doesn’t even get tallied — but every vote for someone who’s actually on the ballot does. If you live in California and vote Biden, so will twenty million other people, and yours won’t matter. If you vote Trump, it’ll matter even less. Write in Bernie Sanders and, suddenly, it’s as though you stayed home — and the “Get Out The Vote” people will pretend you did. But if you vote third party, that’ll get noticed.
Because these votes do get counted, and they add up. Pollsters pay attention; party insiders live and die by percentage points.
Sick of Trump getting picked? Vote against him. Tired of the DNC choosing the worst possible candidate year after year? Vote against them. Make your protest known. It’s better than staying home; at least this way your dissatisfaction gets counted.
In fairness, I do need to mention that it’s possible — though highly unlikely — for third-party votes to swing an election. If you happen to live in one of the key battleground states, such as Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and so on, your vote might actually be important enough to matter, especially if you have friends you talk politics with. It’s easy for a DC resident to vote third party as a protest; it’s harder for someone in New Hampshire. Personally, I like to think that I’d vote my conscience — but I won’t presume to advise you; it’s a difficult choice, but it’s yours to make.
(Editor’s Note: At present, we’re told there are no fewer than fifteen battleground states. These include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.)