Does Voting Third-Party Send a Message?

JohnsonMemeOne of the discussions started by my previous post was on the value of third-party Presidential votes as a means to send a message to the major parties and influence their future platforms. The thinking being that if Gary Johnson gets 20% of the vote, that the Republicans would recognize that Libertarian ideals were more popular than they thought and realign to capture more of those voters in the next cycle. Presumably a similar showing by Jill Stein might heavily influence Democrats.

While I can see the logic in this, it’s unclear to me there’s a lot of evidence for this strategy working in the past. But then rarely do third-party tickets attract more than noise, so there’s not much data here. Still, I think the evidence for the efficacy of Berners or the Tea Party influencing their party’s platforms from within is far stronger than the case for exogenous forces. So even if the third-party approach works, it’s unclear it’s the most effective strategy to achieve change.

Regardless, the unique structure of this year’s election cycle makes the likelihood of either party being influenced by a third-party’s performance negligible. Specifically, both parties are aware they are running very unique candidates. Clinton is toting a ridiculous amount of baggage and is vying to be both the first woman and first Presidential spouse ever elected. Trump is a generational anomaly almost defying description. He is reviled by many in his own party and most of the GOP establishment would jettison him in a heartbeat if they could do it without sending the party into a death spiral.

In this environment, if either or even both major candidates have their ass handed to them in November by Johnson or Stein, it won’t be attributed to the strength of the Libertarian or Green party platforms. It will be attributed to the weakness and uniqueness of the party’s own nominee. Even Johnson’s own campaign is trying to exploit this by emphasizing that voting for him is a vote against both Trump and Clinton (as opposed to a vote for the Libertarian platform). Regardless of the outcome, I think both parties are already trying to figure out how they can never have anything like this election cycle happen again. The third-parties are irrelevant (at least in 2016).

I stand by my initial assertion. Third-party votes are functionally equivalent to abstentions. Still, I suppose if they get you to the booth to vote the down-ticket races, then that’s a good thing. But before abstaining, you should be damned sure you’re prepared to live with either outcome, because you will live with one of them.

Remember the Brexit. Don’t wake up on November 9th with regrets because what you assumed was going to happen despite your (in)actions did not.

14 thoughts on “Does Voting Third-Party Send a Message?

  1. You don’t know when to shut up? Please don’t. I hope you have a post like this every day until the election. I can’t imagine anything getting people to vote third party more than condescending messages like these. I just wish you would say what you are thinking. “Hi, I’m Tim. I think Trump would be a disastrous president so I wish you would vote for Hillary instead of voting third party.” That’s an understandable position and maybe you could sway a few people. But apparently the prospect of a third party costing the Democrats the election is a burr under the saddle for people in your circles. I think you believe that if forced to choose, more people would pick Hillary than Trump. If you don’t believe that then I guess this whole meme is an attempt to help Trump. I’d put pretty low odds on that. So you come up with a theory that the winner take all approach of the constitution dictates that “There can only be two!”. (A pop culture reference that I enjoyed.) You don’t give any cites or references or even your own opinion on how the dynamics of that work or even what it means. That would have been an interesting discussion. Certainly there is empirical evidence that supports that theory. But how much of the 2 party dominance comes from the constitution and how much comes from the 2 parties actively trying to suppress the other parties?
    So armed with this unjustified theory, you set about to convince people not to vote third party. It’s inconceivable to you that someone could be ambivalent between Trump and Clinton. You can’t conceive of it so it must not be! So “If you’re truly ambivalent then you are either too ill-informed or too apathetic to bother voting at all.” You don’t attack the Bernie voters that buy into his ridiculous proposals without learning what the downside may be. You don’t attack the Hillary voters that are just towing the party line. You’re not even attacking the Trump voters that think he’ll be a good president because he’s a businessman. All of these people may be too apathetic or ill informed to vote. (How do we know that you are informed enough to vote?) No, the people who can’t decide between horseshit and cowshit are the ones that are too ill informed to vote.
    You talk about reality as it supports your agenda. There are other realities that you could have picked. What are the odds of one person’s vote in a national election making a difference? I would say a lot less than the odds of Gary Johnson winning this election. You could make an equally plausible argument that, “Your vote doesn’t really matter. Just stay home.” But that doesn’t support your agenda today.
    You may be right that voting third party is a waste of a vote. I don’t care. It’s my vote and I can waste if I want. If more people waste their vote than maybe it won’t be a waste. You certainly have no moral authority to judge people for the way they vote. Nobody does. How about we just tell people to vote for who they think the best candidate it and let the chips fall where they may? And say what you mean next time instead trying to play games.

  2. I thought the post was clear in saying what pollsters and others are saying. You do have to be willing to live with either of the outcomes if voting 3rd party simply as a protest vote. If you really don’t care or think they are equally evil, fine. But if not, than 3rd party isn’t the best way to go. The math is basic, if neither gets over the threshold the house decides and we know who runs the house now. I’m curious though, Brian. You appear to have a very strong opinion on this. Given that, I’m surprised to not see posts on it of your own. Do you reply like this to everyone on your timeline the same way, or do you just know Tim will be happy to engage so you save it all up for him? Or maybe he’s the only one you follow that isn’t on the same perceived side? Living with him, I’m not sure many others actually know what side he’s really on at all. Lots of assumptions based on his posts this year because of the bs choice to be made.

  3. You may well be in the minority who are voting Johnson because of your ideological alignment with the Libertarians. If so, then fine. None of this is aimed at you. But if Johnson is a protest vote, then I stand by my assertion that you are just ducking a choice that you would otherwise hold your nose and make. Gun to your head, Clinton vs. Trump. Would you really choose the bullet? Especially knowing that one of them was going to prevail anyway?

  4. This post is not about my personal preference. Granted, anyone who follows me is pretty clear on the fact that I think Trump is completely unfit for the office. It’s not even a policy choice. He lacks the judgment and stability to be in that position. Period.

  5. There are two paths to a Trump Presidency. One, he simply gets 270 electoral votes on election night. If that happens, fine. I won’t like it, but I do support the democratic process making choices I don’t support. The second is that third-parties draw enough of of the vote that no one gets 270. The election of the President then goes to the GOP controlled House. These are the same people who wouldn’t change the rules to oust Trump from their party’s nomination to avoid dividing their base, coupled with the Tea Party contingent whose mission was essentially to put the governmental blender on Frappe and hope for the best. They actively want Trump to be President. So Trump is almost certain to win in a 3-way race. It is the latter scenario I’m cautioning against.

  6. Unlike ’92, where Perot drew votes almost entirely from Bush, thus handing the election to Bill Clinton, Johnson is positioned in ’16 to draw protest votes from both sides. A strong Johnson finish is very likely to throw the race to the House, which is very likely to give the win to Trump. So I was wrong. Voting third-party isn’t like not voting, it’s like voting for Trump. If Trump wins through this path, I think the third-party voters need to own that.

  7. BTW, here’s a good explainer on why there are only 2 parties in the US. There’s lots more like it available for the Googling. Bottom line, it’s in the design of the system. There’s lots of good arguments for why the system is not a good one, but given this system, we get 2 parties. They can be changed or exchanged for other parties. But the system only supports 2.

  8. I believe strongly that the free market system is the best and most democratic system in the world. Its not perfect, but its going to produce better outcomes on average than anything else. Many of the failings of the system are due to government involvement, (you know, the only group that gets to use guns legally and shoot people to get their way). Politicians are power hungry people that usually want to get reelected and will pass popular items that have horrible predictable unintended consequences. I have links all the time to articles that reflect these views. I doubt most people read them. Tim is one of the few that engages me on these articles. I tend not to reply to other people’s posts because I usually don’t think they want me to and it would be a waste of time. Tim however has had a blog for 20 years which I view as an invitation to respond.

  9. I think this is your least sound argument. This is just pure conjecture. Trump is not popular with Republicans, they didn’t want him. He clearly won the Republican nomination. If it gets to the house than he didn’t clearly win the Presidency. I don’t know how the voting works, but I imagine the Democrats could use Johnson as a compromise to avoid Trump.

  10. I think I’ve made it obvious, but let me just say it; I don’t share your fear of Trump. The worst possible outcome to me isn’t a Trump presidency, but Hillary winning with a super majority in Congress. If she could pass the progressive agenda our standard of living would be set back 50 years. If my only choice is between two people that are going to make bad laws, the more incompetent one might hae an advantage.

  11. If it gets to the House, the Democrats are irrelevant. The GOP controls enough to make the decision on their own. Will they choose Johnson? Maybe. But Trump is likely to finish with bigger numbers so they’d go to Johnson against their base’s wishes. Something they declined to do at their convention.

  12. I would not expect 3rd party voters to vote Dem down the line. Assuming most vote Clinton for President and GOP for Congress, we wind up with 4 more years of deadlocked government struggling to keep the lights on. Hillary’s agenda is largely dead.

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