“Throwing away” your vote? Advice on voting for third-party candidates for president

Maybe you’re one of hundreds of thousands of voters that are dissatisfied with the nominees of our two major parties (they are the two most disliked candidates in history) and you’ve flirted with the idea of voting for a third party candidate. Or maybe you’re frustrated with the status quo and want to send a message to the political establishment. Perhaps, you’ve gone so far as to voice your musings to another person, and they reacted with a gasp, quickly followed by, “you can’t!” and a rambled reasoning of why.

It’s a common argument: voting for the lesser of two evils, or voting against a major candidate by voting for the other major candidate, is more important than voting your conscience. “A vote not for Trump is as good as a vote for Clinton!” and vice versa. And these make sense. There are plenty of examples of how voting for something has gone awry-

  • Some argue that the third-party candidate Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election. For Democrats who remember the Supreme Court recount, the hanging chads, and all that jazz, the name “Nader” is likely to invoke some passionate feelings. The 2000 election had close margins, especially so in Florida, and the presence of the third party is largely blamed for Gore winning the popular vote but losing the electoral college. RealClearPolitics published an article in May with more specific details.
  • We could also learn from our friends across the pond with their recent BREXIT experience. No one wants to wake up on November 9th and be the guy, saying “I wouldn’t have voted for ___ if I thought __ could win!” (Actual direct quote from someone who voted to leave: “I didn’t think my vote was going to matter too much”)

But if we don’t get to vote third party, it will certainly prove to only end up being more of the same, and how will anything change? So what should you do?

There’s a number of factors to weigh here, and they are all very important:

  1. The candidates themselves.
    • This requires some soul searching. What is truly important to you? It’s pretty easy to get caught up in partisan smearing when it’s effective, and you might find yourself feeling like you’re grasping at straws trying to pick a candidate who lines up with you on all of your favorite issues, is the perfect angel with perfect experience, and is also someone you’d like to sit down and have a beer with while simultaneously wanting them to be much smarter than you… the list goes on. So what qualities do you expect from your candidate? Do you want a master negotiator, a smart business person, a foreign policy expert, a social advocate? In what order? How important are these qualities to you?
    • Similarly, what issues are important to you? If a passionate social advocate is #1 on your list because you feel strongly to be pro-choice and the candidate with the strongest advocacy record is pro-life, they probably aren’t for you. Think about your ideal country and five or so issues that would define it. Who closely aligns with those issues and qualities? Is it a major party candidate, or a third party candidate? If you know where you stand on the issues but need some help figuring out who thinks what, imgur user Thyferian edited a pretty comprehensive 4-candidate comparison. Alternatively, isidewith.com is a good tool to help guide you through this soul-searching process, asking questions about what you think about issues and how you prioritize them, and then matches you with a candidate.
  2. Polls, and your gambling comfort level.
    • Polls are a pretty good measure for figuring out the political temperature and how people will likely vote in your area. However, it’s just that- how people will likely vote. It’s not a guarantee. There is no way of exactly predicting how people will act. Polls in Colombia on a vote for a peace deal projected peace as winning with 60% support, but it ended up losing. Nate Silver’s 538 failed to predict the rise and success of Trump time and time again. Projections are good, but they are only as good as the scientists that create the models- so how trusting are you? This is also dependent on how strong you feel about your third party candidate and how much you’re comfortable risking.
  3. Your state’s election system. Does your state allow you to vote for someone under a third party nomination? Does it award its electoral votes proportionally, or to whomever wins the majority?
    • If you live in a state like New York or any of the states that allow election fusion, you can vote for the major party’s nominee, but still vote for a third party. New York has Hillary Clinton as the nominee for 3 parties, and Donald Trump is the nominee for 2 (see for yourself!). The person with the most votes is elected regardless of the party they were voted for under, and third parties get more visibility and influence in the state based on the number of votes they receive.
    • Depending on your state, electoral college votes might be awarded proportionally or to whomever wins the majority of votes. This should inform your voting strategy, in conjunction with polls from your state. If your state is a winner-takes-all state (as most are) and there’s a 10+ point gap between the 2 major party candidates, perhaps you might feel comfortable voting third party (especially if your candidate is on the losing side of the margin).

All in all, it’s up to you. Your vote is your choice- I just urge you to use your vote to make your voice heard!


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