The sad reality this election season is a competition between two dishonest people. Many, on social media and elsewhere, complain that they are forced to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Some have said that they plan to skip out on election day or at least leave the presidential circle unmarked.
To this, there’s always someone who brings up a third party vote, usually with a comment like #Johnson2016 or #JillStein2016. The response almost always presents these options as a waste of a vote. And while they may be correct in claiming that neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein has any chance at a presidential win, the suggestion shouldn’t simply be thrown away.
Who else is there?
It’s true that there are other options besides Hillary and Trump. Gary Johnson, running under the libertarian banner, offers a somewhat liberal social policy mixed with conservative economic ideas. This blend is actually more in line with mainstream voters than either one of the primary candidates.
Yet the true left, Bernie-types aren’t likely to jump on board with someone like Johnson, who advocates for a flat tax and the elimination of the income tax. For these folks we’ve got Jill Stein, the Green Party’s representative. She covers most of the left’s demands, including universal healthcare, a minimum wage increase to $15 and an end to foreign wars.
But these are wastes, detractors will say.
But is it?
Why your vote is probably wasted already
The biggest waste of your voice is to choose a candidate that you don’t support. If you genuinely support Trump or Hillary’s policies, then go for it. But if not, are you simply voting because of strategy? This only goes to reinforce the ingrained party system and the perpetual choice of least-worst that we seem to face every 4 years.
As the libertarians like to say: Voting for the lesser of two evils is still evil.
Positive effects of voting 3rd party
Voting for a 3rd candidate does actually have an effect. It helps other parties with funding and sets the course for the future direction of our nation’s policies.
For example, Gary Johnson’s popularity has spiked in the past month or so, with his numbers rising in states like Utah to almost 10%.
At the 10% mark, Johnson will be included in the network debates. When we’re finally able to see that we have other options, perhaps he will get a further bump in the polls. He is still unlikely to win, but Johnson will also see a spike in contributions, which serves to strengthen 3rd parties in this awful era where money dominates politics.
It’s a money thing
Perhaps more importantly, 3rd parties qualify for federal election funds next time around if they get 5% or more of the popular vote in the current presidential election. While 5% seems measly, this could be huge for the next election.
Federal funding may lead to the eventual mainstream acceptance of 3rd parties. After all, 3rd parties are a pretty normal phenomenon around the world, with the UK, Germany and most other modern democracies offering 3 or more parties to choose from.
The Bernie effect
Money isn’t the only reason to vote 3rd party. A strong 3rd party can also impact the direction of our country’s policies over the next few years.
If you need evidence of this, look no further than the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. Bernie came into the race a long-shot. He was rejected as a no-hope candidate even though many mainstream voters essentially agreed with his policies. Partly because of the hopeless feeling that Hillary would get in anyway, voters stayed in line and voted for the favored candidate.
While Bernie didn’t win the nomination, he won the battle of ideas. We’ve seen Hillary take up many of Bernie’s policies, including free or reduced college tuition, universal healthcare, and an increased tax on the wealthy.
Would Hillary have come around on these issues anyway? Maybe. It’s really hard to say what she would have done. But if there’s anything us voters know, it’s that politicians will only take action if they’re pressured. Coincidence seems an unlikely reason why Hillary all of the sudden came around to Bernie’s most popular ideas.
Whether she’s genuine about these changes is beside the point. Due to Bernie’s popularity, she was forced to adopt parts of his platform. The same can be said of a 3rd party candidate if they were to grab the nation’s attention like the Sanders campaign was able to do.
I remember being in a park a few years ago during the Boston Marathon and staring at a trash barrel. I don’t usually stare at trash barrels, but this situation was unique. Trash overflowed the can, spilling onto the park’s grass. Yet people kept piling trash on top and contributing to the mess on the ground. At one point, someone decided to throw their trash in another nearby trash barrel, which was relatively empty. Others followed. It was an incredible display of our human tendency to mimic others, even when the activity is harmful.
We see a similar effect in how we look at voting for 3rd parties. Our friend says it’s a waste and decides to just vote the establishment candidate. You see him do this, decide a 3rd party vote is a waste, and proceed to do the same. On and on this goes.
This is how the establishment remains in power.
The wasted vote argument gets circulated so often that we begin to believe. We’re told our vote won’t matter so we err on the side of caution and vote for who we’re expected to rather than who we really support.
Yet once we can break out of this cycle, then another pattern emerges. Once it’s safe to vote 3rd party because others are doing it, then a chain reaction is set in motion. Now, the playing field becomes a bit more fair.
Don’t be the one to follow the madness of crowds. If you support a particular candidate, then vote for them.
The changing nature of political parties
When it comes to history, sometimes we think in a bubble. We assume that the way things are is the way things have always been. But if you look at the changes in our economic system, you see that our system is really a constantly changing, growing organism. Our country now resembles modern China more than 1800s America. I don’t mean to denigrate our country, but rather to point out the mass differences between our modern economy and the economy of past America.
We also assume that democrats and republicans have always dominated politics. But surely you remember the Bull Moose, Federalist and Whig parties from high school history. In fact, the democrat-republican system didn’t establish itself until the 1850s, almost 100 years after the nation’s founding.
In terms of human history, 160 years isn’t that long of a time. With that in mind, it seems entirely reasonable to accept that new political parties will emerge. I welcome that day when we’ll no longer have to vote for a giant douche or a turd sandwich.