Some Brief Thoughts on Voting Third-Party

Like Bernie Sanders, I am voting for Hillary Clinton in November. However, many of my friends and others in my social media circles are thinking about voting for one of the third-party candidates for President.

Keep calm. In a two-party system, we are trained to be skeptical of third-parties. That is fine, but it might also lead us to overreact.

Some thoughts:

Not all third-party votes are bad.

If you know somebody who normally votes Republican but also loathes Donald Trump, do not waste energy trying to convincing to them to instead vote for Clinton if they are dead set on voting for the Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. While a vote for Clinton would be preferable (more votes the merrier), a Republican-voter NOT voting for Donald Trump is a win. Clinton needs more votes that Trump in any given state to win those respective electoral college votes.

In late July, many people are either noncommittal of undecided. They might be considering a Johnson, but that have not made up their mind. Make your case for Clinton. However, you might want to encourage them to vote for Johnson if they are waffling between Johnson and Trump.

Not everyone will vote for Clinton. We don’t need everyone to do so.

The third-party vote will shrink between will shrink between now and November.

The current RCP average of the four-way presidential contest is as follows:

Clinton: 40.4%

Trump: 40.2%

Johnson: 7.2%

Stein: 3%

The thing that pops out at me from this average is that even with Johnson and Stein in the picture, about ten percent is still undecided. There is going to be a lot of movement within these numbers. However, I am predicting now that Johnson and Stein are currently at their peak for 2016. Their current numbers are more a reflection of dissatisfaction, discontent, and hurt feelings that many people have with the primary process and the nomination results.

Johnson will likely do relatively well, but as Rand Paul and Ron Paul discovered, there is not a huge public demand for a libertarian Presidential alternative.

Stein is currently benefitting from disaffected Sanders supporters. However, as November approaches, the specter of Trump and the efforts of Sanders himself (who has become a passionate and persuasive voice for rallying around Clinton) will likely lead many to vote for Clinton…even if they are not enthusiastic about it. Stein, will likely get around 2 percent of the vote. That would be significantly more than 2012, but still a small sliver of the pie.

People are in love with the idea of a third-party candidate, not the current candidates

Johnson and Stein are still relative unknowns. They do not have the resources or organizational structure to change that. But increased exposure and attention can have negative as well as positive outcomes. Getting to know candidate doesn’t always cause us to like them.

Remember the Electoral College!

Depending on what state your friend lives in, it might not matter at all. If they live in California or Idaho, move on. Heck, they might be boldly proclaiming their support for Stein…while living in a state where Stein will not be on the ballot.

Shaming and bullying will not help.

Being a jerk by ranting about Ralph Nader in 2000 only convinces the convinced. A serious Green-voter has heard it a million times.

At the end of the day, individual votes are not really what matters. A better use of your time will be motivating other Democratic-voters, especially those who are lukewarm. Turnout will be the key. Get those people involved and voting.

If somebody is set on voting for Stein or Johnson, see what down-ticket candidates you can get them to support. Most people voting for Stein or Johnson are doing so in response to Trump and Clinton, they are likely still open to voting for major party candidates in state-level and Congressional races.

Focus on the end-game. 

If your goal is to elect Clinton and defeat Trump, crushing the third-party candidates and their supporters is not the way to do it. Trump is the opponent. Not Johnson or Stein. Focus.

3 replies »

  1. A vote for a third-party candidate this year is a vote for Trump. If you really want this sleazy egomaniac in the White House, vote for Johnson or Stein or write in your beloved Mitt, but if you want a safer, saner president, you have to vote for Hillary. If you vote for a third-party wannabe or write in your mother-in-law and Trump ends up winning this election, I’m holding you personally accountable.

  2. That is true. I’m not American but like everyone else I follow your politics. The thought of Trump as president of the United States is horrifying to say the least. I pray that sanity prevails and the Americans vote for Hillary Clinton .

  3. First and perhaps most importantly is that U.S. electoral system is biased or skewed against third parties. Wherever an election is based on a “winner-take-all” means of determining a winner, such as the electoral college method of selecting our President, a party in each individual state (there are a couple exceptions) need only win more votes than the other parties. So if HC won NY or CA by only one single vote, she would get all of the electoral votes for that state. Think of it. The margin of victory is so small that the more parties that run the lower the margin of votes is for the winner. With two parties, a candidate must get 50% + 1 vote. With three parties, party A could win with as little as 35% if neither of the others got more than this (e.g.,34% and 31%). That’s right, winning with just over a third of the votes cast and two other parties together getting 65% of the total. This is a big disincentive in a system with two dominant parties like the Democrats and Republicans. Additionally, any third party is required to gather thousands of signatures in each state, spread out over each county to get on the ballot of that state. This first step alone requires a huge expenditure to develop, organize, equip and disseminate a massive team to gather all the necessary signatures. It is possible, but it takes time and lots of money and is rare. Neither the Libertarian or Green parties are likely to be on the ballots of all the states this November. Even if a party did, think of the challenge of getting more votes than either Trump or Clinton in any state, never mind enough to get the needed 270 electoral votes of the 538 total electoral votes.
    So, the most the Greens or Libertarians could hope for would be to take away enough states from either the Republicans or Democrats to give the other a better chance of winning (e.g. Libertarian votes would most likely drain off some of Trump’s potential voters and Greens might take some of Clinton’s votes.). Supporters of a Third party would be playing to be the spoiler in a close election with no chance of actually winning.
    But, if a voter is not playing to win, but to demonstrate their freedom to cast a ballot for the candidate or party that comes closest to representing their views, then it could be a vote based on conscience or principles. That is a legitimate option and we will undoubtedly see this in 2016. And we will see some voters who wish to send a message that neither the Republican nominee nor the Democratic nominee represents them–a protest vote. But, the number of protest votes has to be large enough to capture the attention of the dominant parties with the hope of influencing their policies and choice of nominee in the next election. Unfortunately (my choice of word indicates I am very sympathetic to the disadvantaged position of third parties and would support a system that was more fair) Americans have a strong tradition of voting for one of the two dominant parties and want to be on the winning side, if not now, then maybe next time.
    There is another option used by many other democracies (in fact most other democracies) called “proportional representation” but it is sufficiently different that I will save that discussion for another time. In our system, the most important step you can take is to VOTE, to show you care enough about democracy and its connection to who serves as our representatives from the President down to local officials. The roughly 60% of eligible voters who do actually vote have more influence over who gets elected. That’s right, the U.S. has one of the lowest turnout rates of any democracy. Lots of reasons, but disappointing given the stakes, especially when the candidates for President have such contrasting views, values, and personalities. I am not excited about the options this year, but I WILL vote and I hope all of you do too.

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