The Third-Party Delusion — Adam Headlee

I’ll divulge up front that I’m not a fan of third-party candidates. Quite honestly, I think they have no place in presidential politics, as they have exactly zero chance of becoming president and often end up tipping a close election in favor of the candidate they’re most ideologically opposed to.

Ross Perot and Ralph Nader are perfect examples.

Some will argue that the goal is not necessarily to elect a third-party candidate outright, but to make strides towards breaking the current two-party system. However, if we want to change the two-party system, we’re a lot better off working to gain traction for third-party candidates at the local and state levels. If, for example, the Libertarian Party already held a significant number of seats in state legislatures, Congress or governorships, it would be a lot more plausible for them to field a major candidate in a presidential election. You can’t just start at the top; you have to build a solid political infrastructure from the bottom up.

This, of course, assumes that the system can actually be changed. A political theorem called Duverger’s Law suggests that, in an electoral system of single-member districts (which we have in the United States), the political infrastructure will naturally trend towards a two-party system. In other words, in elections where there is only one winner (e.g., presidential or senatorial elections), no more than two major candidates will typically emerge, lest the election be won by a plurality rather than a majority. In a system of proportional representation (such as the Swedish parliament), a multi-party system is more likely to emerge; each district has multiple seats which are distributed based on the popular vote, allowing candidates from multiple parties to consolidate a respectable amount of political power. Therefore, it’s quite likely that those who believe a third-party insurgency will crack the two-party system are simply fighting the wrong battle. Unless we, as a nation, fundamentally alter the way we conduct our national elections, the odds of ever establishing a multi-party system within the United States are infinitesimal at best.

With all that being said, if you find that you honestly support Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or Darrell Castle or whomever, then by all means, do what you feel is right and cast your vote for someone you truly believe in. However, from what I’ve seen and heard, most of the people who ultimately choose to vote for a third-party candidate will not be doing so out of genuine support for that candidate.

They will be casting their votes out of cowardice, an unwillingness to own a vote for either Clinton or Trump, and a desire for the political bragging rights to slap a “Don’t blame me, I voted for Gary Johnson” bumper sticker on their car when the next president commits his or her first major political blunder.

When faced with two bad options, we are still obligated to make a choice. Senator Bernie Sanders recently urged that “This is not the time for a protest vote,” and I agree. We are not currently at a point, socially or politically, where we have the liberty of screwing around with the likely-futile goal of breaking the two-party system. The balance of the Supreme Court is at stake, and the decisions which the Court hands down will shape our nation’s development for generations to come. I cannot and will not tell you for whom to vote; if you honestly believe that voting for a third-party candidate will be best for America, then follow your heart and pull that lever. I urge you only to do it for the right reasons rather than simply taking the easy way out.

[A longer version of this article was first published at thewall2016.blogspot.com.]

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