The Power of the Wasted Vote
“I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it, than vote for what I don’t want and get it.” — Eugene V. Debs
A common theme during election cycles is the idea that people who do not vote for one of the major party candidates are wasting their vote. This idea is passed around so frequently and causally that it is likely that many of the people proposing it ever really stopped to think about it. Unfortunately, those accused of wasting their vote often mount a meek defense, acknowledging that they may indeed be wasting their vote, but it’s okay because they’re voting their conscience. Aside from the condescension inherent in telling another their vote is wasted, this logic lacks a basic understanding of what voting means. Voting is more than a simple act of math; voting is people actively taking responsibility for choosing their leaders and representatives. Therefore, you do not vote for who you think will win, you vote for who you think should win. The reality is the “wasted” vote has value, it wields power; it is intrinsically the same as the vote cast for the winner.
The Myth of the Wasted Vote
Major candidates, buoyed by many of their supporters, try to paint third party candidates as sideshow acts that deflect from the real show. This characterization is not only harmful to democracy, but also untrue. Harmful, because it is attempting to silence perfectly valid points of view. Untrue because the Electoral College and 12th Amendment guarantees that all votes hold the same potential, especially in the event those votes return a plurality rather than a majority. The elections of 1824 and 2000 both highlight the importance of every vote. Meanwhile, the candidacies of George Wallace (1968), John B. Anderson (1980) and Ross Perot (1992) provide some examples of how third party candidates pose credible challenges to major party platforms. Though the outcomes varied, each of these examples illustrates the importance of all candidates in a national election.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb waste in the following way: to use or expend carelessly, extravagantly or to no purpose; to expend on an unappreciative recipient; to fail to make full or good use of; or to deliberately dispose of something. There is a suggestion implicit in these definitions that whatever is being wasted has value. After all, can one really waste something that has no value to begin with? As such, the trope “your candidate cannot win; therefore, your vote is wasted” is a non-sequitor. It assumes that there is only value in the votes cast for the winner. While many individuals thoughtlessly pass on this logic, the true purveyors of this logic are shrewd individuals. Telling people that they are wasting their vote is a fear tactic. And since many people are more motivated to avoid failure than they are motivated to achieve success it is a sound tactic. Regardless of the motivation, this logic is dangerous. Feeling powerless and being motivated by fear are traits more commonly associated with totalitarian regimes, not democracies.
Every vote has value. One can vote for the eventual loser, one can vote for a candidate who reneges on their promises, one can even vote for an individual that appears to have little chance of winning, but none of these actions are tantamount to wasting one’s vote. Conversely, if you’re only voting for the candidate that is most likely to win, and in doing so, voting against your own beliefs then you are truly wasting your vote.
More than Statistics
While each vote has statistical importance, there is more to a vote than simple mathematics. The election is not a horse race, it is not about picking the winners and the losers — it is about participating in democracy. That is why you do not simply vote for who you think will win, you vote for who you believe will do the best job based on the issues that are important to you. Your vote is your voice, if you are merely voting for the candidate most likely to win you are self-censoring.
Along with fear tactics, people try to obscure the voting process by linking a vote for a third party candidate to a vote for one of the two major candidates. Reference the often heard quip that a vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein is a really a vote for Donald Trump (replace Trump with Clinton if you happen to be speaking with a Trump supporter). The reality is uncannily simple: a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Gary Johnson, likewise the case with Jill Stein. It’s a vote for that party, for what that candidate stands for, and for what you believe in. It really is that simple. Sure, there are statistical effects to these votes. Most notably, the scenario that follows if no one candidate reaches the necessary 270 votes to secure the Presidency. However, that just shows how absurd the concept of a wasted vote really is — either your vote matters or it doesn’t.
Aside from the statistical effects, the myth of the wasted vote negatively impacts the overall outcome of the election and the candidacy of the elected representatives. The people give an elected official a mandate; however, when that mandate is false it hamstrings their ability for success. Elected leaders who win by a thin margin carry out policies differently than those who win with a commanding lead. Furthermore, voting for a candidate who does not lobby for your issues not only silences your voice, it serves to undermine the elected leaders term by issuing them what amounts to a false mandate. In this scenario, the leader appears to have a larger support base than they actually do, which undermines their ability to accomplish tasks. This situation is exacerbated by down-ballot elections that oftentimes present as a backlash against the Presidency. When congressional races subsequently return contrary results and hamstring the president’s agenda, the system of checks and balances becomes a system of checks and checkmates.
From Either/Or to Neither/Nor, the Power of Influence
The presidential election is more than an either/or proposition. Certainly, third party candidates face an uphill battle before they will be seated in the oval office. However, that does not mean that votes for those candidates are wasted votes; every vote has the power to influence. Third-party candidates challenge the dual party system and add alternate viewpoints that can lead to a more robust national discussion. Democratic and Republican candidates routinely co-opt issues that third party candidates lobby. People don’t need to justify their votes, regardless of their choice. Every vote cast has the power to change the direction of the national conversation; some just have a more direct impact than others.
Here is the Realist NeverHillary position from the Lexington Libertarian:
Here is why third party voting is a wasted vote:
We are a divided nation and very close to being divided equally. We are not divided three ways nor divided four ways. We are divided in two. So more than two contenders running for President only muddies the waters.
This division offers two remarkably different approaches to the role of government in society. One side believes the government should manage most everything and provide for much of society’s wants with a heavy emphasis on redistribution of wealth and high taxes to finance it all. The other side believes that the least government the better, that liberty is not just a word and that the free market is what provides both the most freedom and the highest standard of living.
These two philosophies are often labeled Liberal-Left-Democrat and Conservative-Right-Republican.
If you subscribe to one or the other of these governmental philosophies then you probably work hard to see that the other one does not gain power and get to be implemented.
Now I am assuming here that I am writing to a Conservative, Republican or both audience. Hence we will not be advocating the Liberal-Democrat point of view. The NeverTrump point of view above is based on the thought of Eugene Debs, the Father of American Socialism. Debs founded the Socialist Party in the United Sates and ran for President in 1900 and four more times thereafter. So the advocacy for this position is from the Left. It pains me to see Right Wingers justifying their position using Leftist ideology.
Our electoral process is very unique in the world and differs radically from other democratic voting systems globally. We have what we call the Electoral College. Now in order to get any Electoral College votes you must win the whole state in popular vote (some states have tinkered with this formula). This keeps us in most instances into a two party system. A third party has no hope of winning the Presidency unless it has strong support in many states that can lead to a popular vote victory in those states. It can however win House seats in much smaller geographical areas and build from there to a national challenge. However that is not the way most third party challenges have gone for the Presidency. Most third party Presidential challengers come out of the blue with no party or party apparatus behind them. And thus they have no chance of winning anything.
The 2016 Presidential election offers a particularly strong concern for Conservative-Right-Republicans. In no other election in the modern era have the Democrats put forth a candidate who is so corrupt, crooked and such a liar. There is serious worry that Hillary would bankrupt the nation, swamp it with illegals and compromise national security. Many say she would sell the country out for personal gain. Others say she is pure evil. Most would say that she is a felon running for the highest office in the land.
If she is that bad then the focus of Conservative-Right-Republicans should be to stop her from attaining the Oval Office. So this time around it should not be so much about who you are going to elect but who you are going to stop, not elect. If Hillary is really that bad then you as a Conservative-Right-Republican must do everything in your power to defeat her. If you normally vote Republican – and again this is my audience – then not voting Republican is a ½ vote for Hillary. You are taking away from Trump one vote, one vote from the only person who could defeat her.
Now here is where the main point comes in. The next President will be Hillary or Trump. It won’t be anyone else. So if one of these two is worse than the other you need to weed out the worse one. I would maintain that Trump shows a marked conservative alternative from Hillary’s radical Leftist ideology. See the post, “Trump Contract With The American Voter.”
I am also amazed at NeverTrumpers who are “Conservative Purists” and who voted for McCain and Romney two RINO wimps. Yet they can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump who is probably much more Conservative than McCain or Romney will ever be.
So the complaint for many NeverTrumpers is not ideological it is personal. It’s a matter of style over substance. These objectors don’t care how Conservative Trump is they don’t like his attitude and what comes out of his mouth. They consider him to be a vulgar, crude, Narcissistic man with an out of control ego and cruel treatment of others who would put a bimbo in the White House as First Lady.
But what is attributed to Trump, what he is supposed to have said has been distorted and misquoted. What he has supposedly done to other women is a big lie, an October surprise which is a dirty trick. And lastly what Trump has said is nowhere near as bad as what Hillary has DONE.
The Republican grass roots voters nominated a brawler on purpose. They nominated a brawler because the wimps in the Republican Establishment rolled over and played dead and allowed Obama to run wild in the White House. And they knew that a tough fighter likeTrump would be the only one who could withstand the brutal, slanderous attack the Democrats would launch. And they have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Trump, much of it made up stuff.
Third Party candidates are not always the noble saviors on a white horse that they are made out to be. Just take a look at the 1992 Presidential election. Here is the breakdown in popular vote.
Perot took many votes away from Bush. Yes, he also received support from Democrats and Independents also. But that support was Reagan Democrats and Independents who would have voted Republican anyway.
This is how we got Bill Clinton and Hillary – BONNIE & CLYDE! If Clinton had lost that election there would be no Hillary running for President today.
If Trump does not win Hillary will be President. Hillary cannot be allowed back in the White House. The last time she was there she stole furniture, china and silverware for her own house.
Many of us Realists didn’t start out as Trump supporters. We were Rand, Rubio or Cruz supporters. But now that Trump is the nominee it makes no difference. Hillary cannot be allowed to win the Presidency. Even Ted Cruz has said that we must support Trump. And if you were a Cruz supporter you should listen to your candidate.