To my Utah friends planning on voting for third-party candidates:
Today, in Utah, there is a presidential election that is actually contested. This is the first time that Utah has been any sort of “swing state” in living memory. It means that votes matter more now than they have in a long while.
I can think of many reasons why you might make the choice to vote for a third-party candidate. Maybe you just can’t tolerate either of the primary candidates. Maybe you think Trump would be an unfit president but Hillary’s views are deeply contradictory to your own. Maybe you want to push for voting reform, and you think this will help. Maybe you want to push against the two-party system. Maybe you feel a third-party candidate simply represents your values and views far better than the primary contenders.
And maybe you don’t want to set aside your idealism, your hope for something better, your symbolic gesture of protest, or your concerns for your preferred major candidate. Why should you have to? What kind of unjust world would demand such things?
Well, I’ve long considered myself a pragmatist, so I want to speak in defense of that view here for a moment.
It sucks doing what is “politically expedient.” It sucks feeling like you have to vote for the lesser of two evils. It sucks to participate in a system that’s so imbalanced, so polarized, so broken. But there is a tremendous difference between dreaming of a better world and actually changing the world we live in.
The simple fact of the matter is, third party candidates will not win this election. And while some good may come of a surge in third-party voters — in getting us talking about the system as it stands — there is no reason to believe it will change anything.
The U.S. is not brand new. There is plenty of history to look through if you want to see what voting for a third-party candidate might do. The Bull Moose party shows us that even a tremendous amount of support for a third-party candidate will not change our voting system, and will cause a majority of people to wind up with their least favorite candidate. The situation in Florida in the 2000 election shows us that votes are sometimes so narrow that third-party voters swing elections away from their second favorite candidate. And so on, and so forth.
There are ways to push for voting reform. There are other major improvements our voting system needs. The two-party system, the electoral college, the way primary elections lead to extreme candidates … all of these should be overhauled or eliminated. But voting for a third-party candidate is a purely symbolic gesture that will make no lasting impact.
At the end of the day, voting for a third-party candidate is the equivalent of giving half a vote to your least favorite candidate. Now, I’m not here to tell you who your least favorite candidate is. We can have a separate discussion on that, if you’d like. But I am telling you that deciding on your preferred candidate of the two who may actually win is the best way to get a president who best reflects your values. It means compromise, it means settling for less, but the alternative is giving de facto support to the values that least reflect your own.
With a Republican-controlled senate today, a Trump presidency would mean major Republican legislation could go through. With a contested senate majority widely anticipated during the next election cycle, it’s entirely plausible that the same would apply to Democrat legislation during a Clinton presidency. And while presidents do not have any kind of unlimited power, they do direct the priorities and the conversation, which means that the discussion we’re seeing during the presidential campaigns is indicative of the types of political changes or projects we may see in the next four to eight years. And, of course, our president is our representative to other nations, and will influence how other nations view us and choose to interact with us.
The outcome of this election is not neutral. The way the U.S. will look in the coming years will be very different based on who wins this November. What I encourage you to do is simply this: Think of what the world is likely to look like in either scenario, and decide which of those worlds you would prefer to live in. Don’t give into the hype or the fear. Listen to the candidates and their stated goals, investigate impartial analyses of the likely consequences of proposed legislation, and –in short — figure out which of these candidates best reflects your values.
I’m not saying they will reflect your values particularly well. But it is my view that choosing the lesser evil is a civic responsibility. Otherwise, you are giving de facto support to the candidate you believe to be the greater evil. You are, in essence, making the world reflect your values less when you choose to vote for a third party candidate or choose not to vote.
A part of me wants to end with a call to action. Something profound and inciting. Instead, I’ll just pose a question. What do you believe is truly the better way to embody your values? Making a symbolic — but ultimately unproductive — gesture that reflects the way you wish the world worked? Or jumping into the muck and shit of how this country actually works and making what difference you can?