As sure as water is wet, a presidential election trots out the “wasted vote” bullies. Any time someone declares intent to vote for a minor party candidate, a demonic chorus of dyspeptic partisans chants a hymnal full of of hackneyed hosannas in response. Being fiercely libertarian and having engaged in political scrumming for multiple presidential elections, I’ve heard them all, more times than I can count. No matter how often I rebut them, they keep coming over and over and over.

My conservative acquaintances insist that my third-party vote is, in essence, a vote for Clinton, and try to bully me into voting for Trump. Why? Because the evil lying gun-grabbing crook Hillary Clinton must be kept out of office at all costs.

My liberal acquaintances insist that my third-party vote is, in essence, a vote for Trump, and try to bully me into voting for Clinton. Why? Because the evil racist unstable maniac Donald Trump must be kept out of office at all costs.

Both sets of acquaintances impugn me from multiple angles. Principles, apparently, don’t matter in the real world. Not voting for the lesser evil is supporting the greater evil. Third party candidates have no chance of winning (see: Duverger’s Law). Gary Johnson is a stoner pot head who’s probably high every time he appears in public. Libertarianism is a joke, and is wrong on (pick one issue). Libertarians live in fantasy land. Grow up! If you don’t vote for X, and Y wins, it’ll be YOUR fault. Clinton’s going to stack the Supreme Court with liberals! Trump hates women/Mexicans/Muslims/foreigners! Libertarians are just Republicans who wanna get high, so get over yourself and get with the party. Republicans are evil racist bigots, and if you don’t support Democrats, you’re also an evil racist bigot. Democrats are evil money grubbing control freaks, and if you don’t support Republicans, you’re an evil money grubbing control freak.

I could run down the line and rebut each of these (and other) arguments, but instead, I’ll begin by quoting libertarian magician Penn Jillette’s response to those who claim such things: Fuck you.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets first review a couple of the claims, and discuss why a third party vote is MORE useful than a major party vote in an election where both major party candidates stink.

First, realize this: Your vote, by itself, is utterly meaningless. It will not change the outcome of the election. There has never been a presidential election whose outcome would have changed if one vote were different. Furthermore, if you do not live in a swing state, your vote is even MORE meaningless. New York, for example, will, on election day, add its 29 electoral votes to the Clinton column. In an election where New Yorkers somehow came out for the Republican candidate in greater numbers than for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate will have already won the election.

Second, realize this: A vote for a third party candidate, whether it be Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or Darrell Castle or Cthulhu, does not add to the tally for either Clinton or Trump. It is not in essence a vote for Trump or Clinton. To presume so is to presume that a party “owns” your vote by default, and that you’re denying your vote to its proper place. It’s quite an offensive argument, actually. It’s a demand that you embrace a tribal loyalty that you don’t have, that you vote against your conscience and your best interests, and that you do what someone else things is best. Coming from Democrats with their collectivist mindset, that’s at least understandable (but no less offensive), but coming from Republicans, who pretend to be the party of smaller government and greater individual rights, it’s quite hypocritical.

Third, realize this: If you vote for the lesser of two evils, you are still voting for evil. You are condoning the perpetuation of the system that has led this nation into its long decline. You are condoning every dirty trick that your party engaged in, every party decision that ignores your desires and preferences, everything your party has done that you disagree with. You’re saying to the party “you can continue to ignore me, because my vote’s comfortably in your pocket no matter who you pick to run.” Nothing’s going to change if you are unhappy with your party’s candidate but vote for him or her anyway. If you think that the nation is on the wrong track (a HUGE majority does), then by voting for the duopoly that put it on that track you’re condoning a continuation down that wrong track. The state of the nation is not solely the fault of one party or the other, it’s an accumulation of decades of action and inaction by both parties and multiple duopoly presidents.

Now, on to the reasons that a third party vote is a Good Thing (with the caveat that if, for some unfathomable reason, you actually like Trump or Clinton and think that he or she would do a good job as President, I’m not going to tell you not to vote your beliefs).

A third party vote, just like a vote for Clump, is by itself utterly irrelevant. It is in the aggregate that our votes matter, and it is only when enough people choose to vote a certain way that things can change. Excluding the Reform Party, which was born and died with Ross Perot’s involvement in politics, and Ralph Nader’s run under the Green Party banner in 2000, the Libertarian Party has been the most successful third party of the last 40+ years. Despite that distinction, it has cracked 1% of the popular vote only once.

Things are very different this year. The two major third-party candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, are collectively polling at about 10%, and much higher in certain areas and within certain demographics. Does this mean either of them has a real shot at the White House? Barring some SMOD-like event, no. There is a theoretical scenario where Johnson wins a couple states and thereby denies Clump an electoral majority, in which case the next president will be chosen by the House of Representatives. Given that the 12th Amendment specifies that the choice must be from the top three vote-getters, and given that the House is under Republican control, and given that Johnson and Weld were both two-term Republican governors, and given that the GOP hates Trump, if things got to that point, the House might very well make Johnson President. Is this going to happen? Nope.

Lets consider, however, what will happen if Johnson draws a noticeable percentage of the vote. Lets ignore the inevitable caterwauling, gnashing of teeth, and general wailing that will emanate from the losing side. I’ve covered that already. If your team loses, it won’t be my fault. Your team ran a lousy candidate, your team is to blame for losing.

Elections have consequences, and those consequences carry forward for years after the election results come in. This isn’t going to be the last election that ever takes place. The results of this election will have multiple effects going forward. Parties are merely compositions of people and policy positions, and if the third party vote is significant, party strategists will look for ways to capture it (if not for the presidency, then for Congressional elections) via policy adjustments. Individuals who thought to themselves “third party votes are a waste” might reconsider that position if they see a strong third-party showing. Individuals who have ideas that cross over into third party territory might be more encouraged to run for office in future elections.

More simply, your third party vote tells your major party that your vote is in play. The major parties don’t really give a flying rat’s petootie about their most loyal voters. All they do is tell them they do, buy off their “community leaders” so that the message gets propagated, and work to coax or scare them into showing up at their polling stations on election day. They don’t actually advance policies for those voters. They advance policies for two groups: their “friends” i.e. lobbyists, cronies, and big donors (yes, these are pretty much the groups) and the voters that are “in play.” A few tenths of a percentage of the overall population that votes third party every election isn’t a group that the majors are likely to chase, however 10% of the overall population is. If a significant third party vote happens, the losing side is going to have to chase it for the next election, and it will have to embrace policies that appeal to much of that 10%.

A strong third-party vote, and lets presume it to be as the current polls suggest i.e. a strong turnout for Gary Johnson, will also raise awareness about liberty and about ideas that neither major party is keen on i.e. smaller government and more individual freedom. A couple decades ago, most people would stare blankly if you identified yourself as a libertarian. Today, people know the term, and while many get it wrong, most have at least a general sense of what the term stands for. Government started to grow a century ago, when Woodrow Wilson ushered in progressivism, and it’ll take a lot of work and multiple election cycles to undo even a fraction of the damage that statism has done. The next four years are a write-off for anyone who thinks the nation’s on the wrong track and doesn’t believe that Clump will fix things. Voting for one or the other, simply because you think that one or the other is slightly less awful, merely kicks the can down the road. Voting third party, on the other hand, contributes to the undoing of the mess that has been done unto us.

If you’re a Bernie Sanders Democrat who embraced the social tolerance and anti-cronyism message, a Johnson vote will be a loud repudiation of the shenanigans the party wrought to stack the deck against him AND a further assertion that your issues matter. If you’re a Tea Party small-government type, a Johnson vote party vote will repeat the message sent to the GOP in 2010, a message the party tried to ignore. If you’re a traditional fiscal conservative, a Johnson vote will be a vote for economic liberty and against the cronyism that’s become the status quo in America.

Finally, a couple comments for the “Johnson is not libertarian enough” and “Johnson is wrong on one issue so that’s it for him” crowds.

Some of you use those as thinly veiled excuses to justify voting for Clump. Apart from calling you out for intellectual dishonesty, I’m not talking to you. If you want to vote for Clump, go ahead. Just don’t pretend you’re doing so out of any principle.

The rest? Those who think Johnson’s a squish who isn’t pushing real libertarianism and who has abandoned first principles, ask yourselves this: Will Johnson and Weld move things in the right direction, even slightly or imperfectly? Would they be a net positive for liberty and for the nation? If so, then not voting for them is missing a singular opportunity to make a pro-liberty statement. A third-party vote, even for a very imperfect positive, is a whole lot more of a declaration of principles than sitting this election out.

Want to actually make a difference? Be different. Don’t vote for the duopoly. Don’t fall prey to the wasted vote nonsense. Don’t let bullies push you to vote against your conscience. Vote for Gary Johnson.

Still not convinced? If you find the 2000 words you just read (or skimmed or skipped through) insufficiently compelling, here are 20 other debunkings of the myth of the “wasted vote”:

Wasted Vote Debunking #1
Wasted Vote Debunking #2
Wasted Vote Debunking #3
Wasted Vote Debunking #4
Wasted Vote Debunking #5
Wasted Vote Debunking #6
Wasted Vote Debunking #7
Wasted Vote Debunking #8
Wasted Vote Debunking #9
Wasted Vote Debunking #10
Wasted Vote Debunking #11
Wasted Vote Debunking #12
Wasted Vote Debunking #13
Wasted Vote Debunking #14
Wasted Vote Debunking #15
Wasted Vote Debunking #16
Wasted Vote Debunking #17
Wasted Vote Debunking #18
Wasted Vote Debunking #19
Wasted Vote Debunking #20

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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