A case against third-party candidates
With less than a week until the election, most people have already made up their minds about who they are going to vote for. However, if you’re thinking about voting for a third-party candidate like Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, I’m going to ask you take a moment to reconsider your choice.
Voting is a right that every single adult in American is entitled to. It’s one of the great equalizers in our country; no matter how much money a candidate or special interest group pours into an election campaign or ballot initiative, you still can’t buy someone’s vote. With that being said, our electoral system has created a somewhat unfortunate system in which, although you may vote for anyone you choose, there are really only two viable candidates in any given race: the candidates of the two major parties.
This is not because of some sort of collusion or conspiracy on the part of the Grand Old Party and the Democrats, but rather a symptom of our electoral system. America has a winner-take-all, first-past-the-post voting system. This means that the first candidate to receive the majority of the votes in any given election wins that election and takes the seat. All other candidates lose and their voters’ views are not represented.
There a various criticisms of this system, but it’s the one the founders chose and the one that has served us relatively well for more than 200 years. In such a system, however, something called Duverger’s law takes effect. Duverger’s law states that first-past-the-post electoral systems trend toward two-party systems. What this means is that in America’s electoral system, we’re almost always going to have two parties vying for your vote and that third (or fourth) parties will almost never win an election. This makes sense if you think about it.
Suppose there are three parties with candidates vying for a single congressional seat in a general election and that two of the three parties are very ideologically similar (the tea party and the Republican Party would be a good example of this). Because all three candidates are competing for the same seat and two parties have very similar constituencies, chances are the party that is dissimilar to the other two is going to win because voters with views closest to the two other parties will split their votes between those two candidates. There have been numerous examples of this phenomenon throughout American history, two recent instances being the Ralph Nader in 2000 and Ross Perot in 1992, the so-called “spoiler” presidential candidates.
So if you’re thinking about voting third party in this upcoming presidential election, or for another candidate in any other race, I would urge you to reconsider. Though a third-party candidate may more closely align with your views, a vote for him is effectively one that’s thrown away. While symbolically voting for a candidate you believe in might feel good, you are also ensuring that a candidate with views even closely resembling yours gets elected.