Voting third party principled, not pragmatic

Share on Facebook
Tweet on Twitter

Every presidential election season, many independent voters consider abandoning the two major party candidates in favor of a third party ticket that more closely represents their views. As someone who falls far outside either the Democratic or Republican ideological camps, I can certainly sympathize. The idea of voting for the lesser of two evils every election cycle is a distasteful one for many, but in the end, it may be the most reasonable and pragmatic course.

Much of the attractiveness of third parties can be explained by voters feeling like the Democratic and Republican parties are unprincipled, politically craven and overwhelmingly beholden to whatever interests hold the most money and power in our society. It also stems from the view that the two-party system fails to provide the American people adequate choice in candidates. Indeed, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the two least liked and least trusted politicians to ever seek the presidency.

Third parties, without the burden of a real history of action in office, run purely on ideology rather than record. Most Americans who are disgusted with the two major parties can look at one or more of the minor parties and see a lot they agree with and no baggage or examples of broken promises to dissuade them.

While third parties certainly do offer principled positions that may better represent the political views of voters, in the end they are electorally nonviable. The American electoral system basically guarantees the permanent dominance of two parties except in the most exceptionally rare political climates. Winner-take-all, single-member districts mean that a party cannot enter government unless its candidates get a plurality of the vote. This seldom happens when it comes to the Greens and Libertarians, America’s two largest minor parties.

With the electoral system as it is, the spoiler effect of voting for third party candidates in swing states can’t be ignored. The spoiler effect refers to the possibility of third party and independent candidates siphoning off enough votes from a major party candidate to swing the election for their opponent. While third party voters are making a principled choice for their preferred candidate, the ultimate effect of this vote could be the election of the “greater evil.”

I’d certainly love to see some modifications made to America’s electoral system. Proportional representation would create a chance for minor parties to enter the legislature. An instant runoff ballot would allow people to vote their conscience without having to worry about a spoiler effect. These changes, however, would require a constitutional amendment, an endeavor which is incredibly unlikely to ever succeed. As unhappy as I may be with the choices we are presented, I can’t wish the current system away. In my mind, that leaves two options: abstain from voting or deal with the reality of the two-party duopoly.

The entrenched interests which control the two major parties may never go away, but there are still ways to affect the parties’ policy directions. The success of insurgent candidates like Bernie Sanders and progressive politicians like Elizabeth Warren on the left and the Tea Party movement on the right prove this. The threat of Tea Party primary challengers forced a drastic shift in the political culture of the Republican Party. Sanders’ unexpectedly vigorous challenge against Clinton in the primaries certainly led to her taking on more progressive policies than she otherwise would have.

A Clinton presidency would see at least some of Sanders’ positions like tuition-free college acted upon, possibly with Sanders serving as chair of the budgetary committee in the Senate. That’s a real effect, and it happened because progressive activists flexed their muscle within the Democratic Party apparatus. That’s a more concrete change than third party voters can hope to bring about through their principled votes.

For people like me, the choice we have to make tomorrow is pretty awful. A vote for Clinton is a vote for the continuation of Democratic policies defined by imperialist violence abroad and corporate subjugation domestically. A vote for Trump is a vote for creeping fascism, white supremacy and the death of the republic. A vote for anyone else is an impotent expression of rage and disillusionment, as much as I hate to admit it.

Whether a Republican or Democrat is in the White House, in all likelihood, I’ll be unhappy with the majority of what they do as president. However, that doesn’t mean I get to act like Clinton and Trump are equally bad. Left-wing critics of Democrats often get accused of promoting false equivalency between the two parties; I won’t be charged with that here. In this election, there is most certainly a greater evil.

As many deep, substantial policy differences I have with Clinton, Trump is worse in every regard. Do I like having to choose between what I see as the nominees of two political parties of money and war? Of course not. Would a Clinton administration be demonstrably better for women’s right to choose, the civil rights of minorities and in terms of basic competency in government? Undoubtedly.