On November 8, 2016, Americans will be casting their votes to elect the 45th President of the United States. The two major party candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have the two lowest favorability ratings in history – 35% and 41%, respectively. Those of us who dislike both candidates feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, forced to pick between the lesser of two evils. Before I get into the pros and cons of voting for an alternative, I’m going to review my personal experience with politics and explain what has lead me to support a third party candidate.
I have been a diehard Bernie Sanders supporter ever since I heard of him back in early 2015. I wrote a piece on him here on the Messy Heads back in May and started a political commentary channel called Socially Unacceptable to unleash my newfound interest in news and current events. Though I’ve had a relatively limited experience with politics – this is the first presidential election I’m old enough to vote in – it was immediately clear to me that Bernie Sanders is different than most politicians. I saw a candidate who is honest, compassionate, and truly progressive running a campaign funded by the people instead of wealthy campaign donors. With his genuinely inspiring stump speech, Bernie electrified thousands of supporters at his rallies and highlighted the extreme inequalities of this country. Bernie Sanders truly changed my life and will always be one of my heroes.
But the primary process was, in short, stacked against him from the start. It took a ridiculous amount of time for the mass media to give Bernie the credit and coverage he deserved, which critically limited his exposure and undoubtedly harmed his campaign. The DNC has been proven to have heavily favored Clinton – though the organization is supposed to be neutral during primaries. Voter suppression and signs of election rigging popped up all over the country. In the end, Hillary Clinton – with the support of nearly the entire Democratic establishment – became the party’s nominee.
During the course of the primary, my perception of Clinton and knowledge of her record changed dramatically. Pre-Bernie, I was Ready for Hillary. “She is going to be the first woman president! She’s a democrat! Easy choice!” Honestly I knew nothing about her other than her liberal leanings and that she had been a First Lady; I did not follow politics at all at that point. Once I started paying attention and doing research, I saw the contrast between her and Bernie. She is an establishment politician. She has close ties (and lots of campaign contributions) from Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, and other major corporations. She is notoriously secretive about many things – from her speech transcripts to her email server scandals and more – which is why so many Americans do not trust her or see her as honest. It became obvious to me that Clinton is the epitome of what’s wrong with the current Democratic Party. Their policy positions are more liberal than Republicans, but they still play the same games. I don’t want to support the establishment, I want a true progressive. (If you’re interested in hearing more about why I dislike Clinton, the DNC leaked emails, and the primary from my perspective, check out Socially Unacceptable.)
Along with my #StillSanders posts, I was adamantly #NeverHillary. Even during the primary, people criticized #BernieOrBust supporters such as myself for being “irrational.” But when it comes down to it, we were and are being rational. Bernie represents a progressive future. Hillary represents the status quo. When it comes to the many issues Americans are struggling with, from economic inequality, impossible student loan debt, and the destruction of our environment… we simply cannot afford to wait for slow, incremental change. We need a revolution.
The night that Hillary Clinton was declared the nominee and Bernie’s campaign was really over, I was wracked with guilt. I went to bed literally feeling sick to my stomach. All over the internet I saw posts emphasizing that it was now Hillary VS Trump. A vote for anyone but Hillary is basically a vote for Trump, they said. Bernie supporters better fall in line, suck it up, and support the Democrat.
I cannot vote for Hillary because I have learned too much about her. I am deeply concerned with her contributions from harmful, greedy industries. She says she’ll fight the big banks and defend the 99%, but she receives so much funding from the 1% that it is nearly impossible to believe that it won’t influence her decisions. Furthermore, it’s hard to be sure exactly where she stands on so many issues because of her tendency to flip flop or pander to whoever she’s addressing. But even with all of her faults, obviously I don’t want Trump to win. So what can I do? If I don’t vote for Hillary, or don’t vote at all, people are saying that’s basically the same as letting Trump win… but is it?
Behold – the third party options! Gary Johnson, a Libertarian, is currently averaging about 8% nationally in polls. His platform is an interesting mix of fiscally conservative and socially liberal policies. Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, is averaging 3% nationally in four-way polls. She agrees with Bernie Sanders on nearly every issue, and is even more liberal than him in some areas.
Let’s confront some common myths about voting third party:
“It steals from the Dem vote. You’ll be another Ralph Nader (allowing G.W. Bush to beat Al Gore by splitting the Democrats’ vote in the election of 2000). Splitting the liberal vote will certainly hand the election to the Republicans. There’s no way a third party candidate will win, so what’s the point?”
We have a two party system in this country, because “they” want to keep it that way. The way our electoral college works, it’s easy for the two major parties to stay in power. But we do have other parties! About 40% of American voters identify as independent while the rest identify as Republicans (~ 29%) and Democrats (~ 31%). That is a huge chunk of people that don’t consistently align with either of the two major parties! But somehow for our general elections, we all end up bound to pick between the two. Why are we forced to elect politicians who don’t represent our interests? Especially in this election, most people are not big fans of either Clinton or Trump, so they just want to vote against the other person.
“I’m voting Trump because I hate Hillary!”
“I have to vote for Clinton because we CANNOT allow Trump to win.”
It’s unfortunate, to say the least, but most of all, it’s stressful. According to recent polls, Clinton and Trump are basically tied. That’s terrifying.
So back to third parties. Is it worth it? Do those votes impact the Clinton/Trump race?
I believe it all depends on the state you are voting in.
Remember that due to our electoral college system, states are winner-take-all. The margin of the win means nothing; the winner of a state receives all of its electoral votes. If you are in a deep blue OR deep red state, it is nearly 100% certain that it will stay that way, even with a larger-than-usual percentage of third party support. (Deep blue meaning a state is consistently won by a Democrat, deep red meaning the same for Republicans.)
Take my home state, California, for example.
The Democratic nominee has won CA for the past 6 presidential elections by margins of 12 – 24%.
Even if Jill Stein and Gary Johnson got 8.5% of the total vote – which is the current polling average in CA – Clinton would still beat Trump by 20 points.
Therefore, in California, you can say it is “safe” to vote third party. Safe as in, you don’t need to worry about “letting” Trump win by not voting for Hillary.
The same applies in any other solidly Democratic or Republican state. If you’re in Utah, for example, it’s nearly certain Trump will win (he is currently up 15 points in four-way polls) so you can cast a vote for Clinton (which still won’t be enough for her to win the state) or you can use your vote to show support for a third party candidate – who your views probably align with better than hers or Trump’s anyway.
However, if you’re in a “purple” state such as Florida or Ohio… that means its a toss up. It’s always very close between Republicans and Democrats, so here it is more “risky” to vote third party. If you’re worried about Trump winning your state, you will feel much more pressure to vote Clinton because the margin may be so small that a few hundred or thousand votes will decide the state. (The same conflict exists if you’re worried about Clinton winning and would rather vote Trump.) So sorry, if you’re in a swing state…. you may just have to bite the bullet and pick the lesser evil – whoever you consider that to be. Of course, you can always disregard that pressure and still vote third party if that’s what you want to do, because this is America and apparently we have the freedom to vote how we want. (LOL, right???) It’s tricky!
You can look up your state’s recent polls and voting history here. Find out if your state is red, blue, or purple, and take that into consideration when deciding how you’d like to vote if you’re unsure.
It comes down to what you want your vote to do. Prevent a President Trump? Prevent a President Clinton? Just want to support a candidate you truly believe in, instead of just voting for whoever you hate the least?
Well still… “WHAT’S THE BENEFIT OF VOTING THIRD PARTY IF THEY WON’T WIN ANY STATES AND CERTAINLY WON’T WIN THE WHOLE ELECTION?”
DEBATES! According to the Commission on Presidential Debates, candidates must have the following to be eligible to appear in nationwide debates:
- Appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College.
- Have a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recently publicly-reported results at the time of the determination.
Of course, Trump and Clinton will be appearing in national debates, the first of which is on September 26th. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, though they have enough ballot access, failed to reach the 15% polling average, so they will not be participating. It is crucial that third party candidates reach those requirements and are allowed to be seen alongside the major party nominees. The exposure is invaluable! More American voters will see third party candidates as viable options if they are on those debate stages. Their views and policy positions provide a greater range than just those of Democrats and Republicans. Even if it didn’t make a huge impact in the current election, it would be greatly beneficial to the future growth of those alternative parties.
FEDERAL FUNDING! An article from VOA News explains, “To be declared an official candidate, those individuals have to raise at least $5,000 in campaign contributions. To be eligible for federal campaign matching funds during primary season, a candidate has to raise $5,000 in 20 different states.” Johnson and Stein were the only third-party candidates to reach that threshold by the deadline. The article continues, “The same public funding system requires a third party to have received at least 5 percent of the popular vote in the previous election in order to be eligible for funds this year. No third party achieved that level in 2012.” Despite missing out on the opportunity for this general election, the Libertarians and Greens can benefit from federal funding in 2020 if they can each reach 5% of the popular vote this time. Therefore, supporting a third party candidate this year could result in huge benefits for the future of the party.
People tend to dismiss third parties and say that they “only pop up during the general” then disappear for another four years. That may currently seem to be true – but we can change that by supporting third parties on local and state levels. The more they can win local and state offices, the better. So it is very important to vote in and pay attention to all elections, not just the general. Real change starts from the bottom, so we can slowly build support for third parties by helping them win one by one.
Overall, our current political system is an absolute shit show, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. A lot of these problems come from outdated, nonsensical policies and systemic issues, but we can begin to hack away at them. It doesn’t have to be this illogical and unfair forever. Show support for politicians and causes you believe in with your votes, your time, and your dollars.
In November, I am voting for Jill Stein. I will cast that vote knowing that I am well-informed on the issues, my candidate, and the impact on my state. I encourage you all to do your research, register, and vote. Regardless of who you choose to support, it is essential to get out there and be part of the political process. This election is going to be one for the history books.