Most people concede that a vote for a third party candidate in our current ‘two party’ system is a wasted vote.
When a candidate seems to have virtually no chance of winning, most people would rather vote for one of the two main candidates, even if only to keep the ‘wrong’ candidate from winning the election. (Douglas Adams had a great view on this by the way)
Let us take a slightly different view on this subject and examine the question as to whether or not a vote for a third party candidate really is a ‘wasted vote’. But first lets take a look at recent elections.
The past few election cycles have seen an increasing discontent amongst American voters. People are feeling more and more like they aren’t being represented by their elected officials in Washington. Discontent with the status quo under two terms of the Bush presidency created perceptions of a prolonged, increasingly unpopular war, an approaching recession and unpopular initiatives such as TARP and corporate bailouts. These led people in 2006 and 2008 to vote for ‘change’ in Washington.
Not seeing that change but instead seeing even worse ‘business as usual’ combined with huge deficits, more bailouts, extreme currency franking and massive growth of government size and power spawned the creation of the ‘Tea Party’ movement.
In both cases, as with many prior elections, people felt betrayed by their elected officials in Washington. More recently, people are expressing increased anti-incumbency sentiments and an increased desire for new ideas in D.C. Even and sometimes specifically if that means electing rank amateurs to replace prior ruling elites.
So how many of you reading this have ever answered yes to any of these questions?
My [party] candidate let me down because …
- …they didn’t stick to the principles they ran upon. It seems they just said what they needed to get elected but then did something completely different once they got to Washington.
- …they compromised on a key issue. Issue X is way too important to waver or commit to half-way measures.
- …they sought a bi-partisan deal on issue X just so they could try to convince the opposition to support them later on issue Y. (often on issue Y they are left out in the cold despite the compromise)
- …they voted against the party on a particular issue that was of great importance. Regardless of the rest of their voting record, that is unforgivable.
- …they didn’t stand up against the opposition on a key issue. I understand they don’t have the majority but what good is a minority if they simply go along with whatever the majority party wants or remain silent while the majority rolls over our rights?
- …they are supposed to be representing my party’s views in Washington, but it seems they are only representing whatever it takes to get re-elected!
No doubt, these are all sentiments we have all felt. Yet we see the same things happening election after election. We still feel obliged to vote for these candidates from one of the two main parties because too often we have seen a third party candidate siphon votes away from one side allowing the other side to win. Now consider the following…
- Do either of the two main parties want to spend money on candidates to ‘lose’?
- Do either of the two main parties ‘not’ examine election returns after an election to figure out where to focus in later elections?
- Do people contributing to either of the two main parties do so to support ‘losing’ candidates?
- If a candidate from one of the two main parties loses because their votes were siphoned off to a third party, do you really think they won’t notice?
- If candidates for one of the two main parties continue to lose because of siphoned off votes, do you expect their financial supporters to keep throwing good money after bad toward failed campaigns?
Any vote based on principle is a good vote!
The answers to the questions above help to demonstrate that. Still, we are prone not to want the ‘opposition’ to win. Third party candidates, even good ones, face an extremely hard fight not only because of the bi-opoly held by the two main parties but because of this futility view held by the voting public. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that good third party candidates are non-winning candidates because people think they are non-winning candidates! Yet a vote for a third party still makes a statement that will either result in a change of the main parties approach or an increase in viability of the alternatives. Still not convinced? Go back to the first list of questions for a second then consider the definition below. (feel free to follow the link under the term for the full Wikipedia entry)
prag·ma·tism/ˈprægməˌtɪzəm/ [prag-muh-tiz-uhm] -noun
1. a philosophical movement or system stressing practical consequences as constituting the essential criterion in determining meaning, truth, or value. Often typified as “the ends justifies the means” or by the words “it wouldn’t be practical” and even “choosing the lesser of two evils“
Now consider one last question:
If you will condemn politicians based on the items in the first list – for not standing up to the opposition, for compromising on key issues, for trying to make ‘deals’ with the opposition, for not speaking out, doing the ‘right’ thing or standing on principle – for acting based on ‘pragmatism’….
… how can you expect them to behave that way when you don’t vote that way?
And just for 2012: