Voting for third parties or choosing the lesser of evils in US voting

In discussing tactics for voting in presidential elections often votes cast for third party candidates are described as wasted ballots or alternatively as possibly helping to elect the greater of two evil candidates.

This article is designed to show that both criticisms are based upon misunderstanding the purpose of voting from the standpoint of the individual voter. Some discussions appear to assume that voting is something like betting. From this point of view voting for a third party candidate is irrational a wasted or losing bet. The statistics are clear: " Since 1988, third party candidates have averaged less than one tenth of a percent of the popular vote. With that in mind, it is fair to say this year’s leading third-party candidates are polling much better than average." Yet recent polling give Green Party candidate Jill Stein an average of just 3.1 per cent nationally, while Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson has an average of 8.6 percent. If voting were like betting one would demand huge odds before you would place your bet on a third party.
But voting is not like betting. Even if there are only two candidates running you do not vote for a candidate because they are more likely to win, but usually for the candidate you want to win. You hope that voting will itself help the candidate you vote for to win. You are at one and the same time expressing a preference and hoping that your vote along with others will result in your preferred candidate winning. Yet, your one vote is quite unlikely to determine the outcome. In almost all cases it will make no decisive difference but when a contest is likely to be close it makes sense to vote as a factor in determining the outcome. Even though you know your candidate will not win it still makes sense to express you preference and support. Even within a two party system it makes no sense not to vote for someone because they are quite likely to lose. As this article notes: In cases like California and Texas, where the results are often lopsided, the wasted vote logic could be applied to major party candidates. Should Californians planning to vote Republican or Texans planning to vote Democratic skip the election or vote differently simply because their vote “won’t count”? If a vote for a major party candidate destined to lose isn’t “wasted,” the same must be true of a vote for a minor party candidate also destined to lose.
If the wasted vote argument made any sense, all those votes for the losing candidates in states where one candidate is shown by polls to be almost certainly the winner are wasted. Yet no Democratic or Republican strategist ever suggests that voting for them in a situation where one or the other appears bound to lose is a wasted ballot. The argument that voting for a third party is a wasted ballot is not an argument at all. It is a myth widely accepted that is used by the two main parties to convince voters not to vote for third parties. A wasted ballot is more likely to occur when you vote for a person even though you do not prefer them. This brings us to another myth.
Often people vote for one of the candidates of the main parties even though they do not prefer either of them to a third party candidate or even disapprove of both of them. In this election, both Republican, Donald Trump, and Democrat, Hillary Clinton, have high disapproval ratings. Democrats are urged to vote for Clinton to stop Donald Trump and those who disapprove of Clinton are urged to vote for her as the lesser of evils. The result is that many will vote in a manner that does not express their preferences in terms of all the candidates but only in terms of those of the main parties. This is a device that functions as a means of bonding the voter to the two party system even though the candidates do not represent what voters prefer. It has little to do with any practical reality except for a few special situations. An extended critique of the lesser evil tactic can be found here.
Voting not only is an expression of support for a candidate but of the policies and platform of the party that the candidate represents. Voting for Clinton helps strengthen support for many policies that leftists disapprove. Electing her strengthens the power of an establishment that Clinton supports and to which she is beholden. The lesser evil doctrine is intended to do this, as was the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, and progressive chatter of Elizabeth Warren. It is all part of ensuring that the left stays within the Democratic party fold. If the aim were to just avoid the election of Trump, then the following policy makes more sense:To those left leaders who say they agree that the Democratic Party is hopelessly corrupted by corporate cash, but propose a “strategic” vote for Clinton “just this year,” we should ask: Why not at least urge a vote for Jill Stein in the majority of the country that are considered “safe states” like New York, where Clinton is up by 18%? Given the Electoral College system, the election will really be decided in a small number of swing states like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
Voting for a third party will not prevent Trump or Clinton from winning. The US electorate is too habituated or indoctrinated into accepting the two-party system for that result to happen, but a vote for a third party candidate can have some effects:Strong showings by the Libertarians, Greens or other third parties in the 2016 election are very unlikely to prevent a Trump or Clinton presidency. But they could affect the positions presidential candidates take in 2020 and beyond.
If the showings are strong enough this could also encourage the growth of third parties and mount a challenge to the existing system. Third parties also give voters the opportunity to vote for candidates that represent policies closer to those that they prefer than do candidates of the two major parties.


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