Thinking About Voting Third Party? Grow Up.

Swing-state voters who support third-party candidates for president need to grow up. This is a sentence I have been repeating to myself for 12 years now, but rarely say in public because of the violent reaction it invokes in people who normally consider themselves my political allies. I apologize for the crassness of my statement, but with a close race for president just days away, I think it needs to be said.

Whether to support a third-party is a critical topic, but a hard one to approach, in part, because it is amazing we are still having a debate over it. I thought after 2000, the stupidity behind a third-party candidate running for president and people voting for him or her would be forever resolved. Not the case. Again, we as a nation show a stunning unwillingness to learn from our mistakes.

For those who were too young to remember 2000, or have repressed the events of 2000, let me provide a brief recap. Al Gore received 543,895 more votes than George W. Bush in 2000. However, our nifty electoral college does not care so much about who gets the most votes. Rather, it comes down to who wins each state’s electoral votes. Election Night 2000 produced no winner. 49 states’ and the District of Columbia produced the following electoral vote total: Al Gore: 266; George W. Bush: 246. Gore needed just 4 more votes to win and Bush needed 24, but those numbers did not matter. There were 25 votes left, all in Florida, and they would all be going to one candidate; whoever won Florida, won the White House. A long, drawn out recount went on for more than a month in which Bush’s lead continued to dwindle. The recount was ultimately halted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on December 12, 2000. By that date, Bush’s lead in Florida had shrunk to just 537 votes (out of 6 million cast). The tragedy in all of this is that Ralph Nader’s insistence in running for president despite no chance of winning and aggressively campaigning in swing states, very much handed the election to George W. Bush. This is not a point on which reasonable people can disagree.

Ralph Nader received 97,488 votes for president in Florida in 2000. Polling of Nader voters in 2000 showed that had Nader not run, 45% of his supporters would have voted for Al Gore, 27% would have voted for George W. Bush, and the rest would have stayed at home. Applying these numbers to Florida, this means that had Nader not run for president in 2000, Al Gore would have won Florida by 17,000 votes instead of losing it by 537. And that is the difference between a President Gore and a President Bush.

Nader and his quixotic followers argue that Gore ran a lousy campaign, and the Supreme Court decided the race, and that 250,000 Democrats nationwide voted for Bush, blah, blah, blah. None…of…that…matters. All that matters is that Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign changed the outcome of the election. That is a mathematical certainty.

What Ralph Nader does not understand (or pretends not to understand) is that we live in a pluralistic system (also called “First Past the Post” system), meaning that all that is required to win an election is to receive more votes than anyone else—as opposed to having to get 50% of the total vote (majority or “second ballot” system) or apportioning power based on the percentage of votes each party receives (proportional representation). The result of a pluralistic system like ours is that it creates a two-party system by its very nature. This is known as Duverger’s Law. The way a plurality system works, third-parties, by definition, are doomed to undermine those causes they profess to care about because they necessarily split the vote of particular interest groups and leave the unsplit oppositional party to win with a plurality (exactly what happened in Florida in 2000).

This year I have many friends and family members who will be voting for Jill Stein. Ms. Stein is a terrific woman whose ideals fall very close to my own, but there is no chance I will be voting for her. Why? For the same reason I did not vote for Ralph Nader in 2000. We live in a two-party system that presents us with two options for president: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. One of these men will become president. While I like neither choice, Barack Obama is clearly the better option so that is who will receive my vote.

My critique of those supporting third-parties is not meant as a condemnation for not being an obedient Democrat or Republican. Be a rabble rouser, but understand there is a time and a place for that. Passionate liberals and conservatives should put pressure on their elected leaders to stand with them. If they don’t, the citizens should primary them. If, however, these advocates fail to significantly move the candidate on the issues and fail to defeat him in a primary, it becomes time to put on your big-boy pants and vote for the least-worst option. To do otherwise is the equivalent of throwing a political temper tantrum. If you live in Massachusetts or Utah, feel free to throw that temper tantrum. But if you live in any state with even the remotest possibility of the election going either way, grow up and vote like you understand the system in which you live.

– Dylan

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4 Responses to “Thinking About Voting Third Party? Grow Up.”

  1. I started to write a post–but I realized it was pointless.

  2. […] for those who are choosing to vote third-party, well, I’ve already covered that here. I would advise third-party voters to recognize that we live in an electoral system […]

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