Point-Counterpoint: Voting for third-party candidates

‘Point-Counterpoint’ juxtaposes two opposing perspectives on polarizing issues and debates. The following responses, written by the Daily’s opinion section, address both sides of the debate on voting for third-party candidates in the 2016 presidential election.

The case for third-party voting

In the 2016 presidential election, third parties are forecasted to enjoy an almost unprecedented level of support. Current polls put Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson as high as eight percent and Green Party Candidate Jill Stein as high as six percent. While both Johnson and Stein fell short of the 15 percent support needed to participate in the official presidential debates, the contingency supporting them is too large to be ignored.

Many people hold the view that voting for a third-party candidate is akin to “throwing away” one’s vote. Given the statistical improbability and historically low support for these candidates, one might even call it reckless to vote for a candidate with no real chance of winning the election. However, this logic ignores the principle of voting itself. If citizens don’t vote based on their values, then what is the real purpose of our democracy? The best option may not always be the most popular one, but that is no reason to urge voters to suppress their true beliefs in order to play a political game. Without voters sticking to their principles, the entire premise of democracy is endangered.

The prevalence of third-party support is a symptom of a more serious problem: the two-party system is no longer serving its constituents. According to a recent Gallup poll, Trump and Clinton currently have unfavorable ratings of 65 percent and 55 percent respectively. With citizens caught up with the seemingly irrevocable flaws of the major parties and their candidates, it is apparent that the two-party system has failed to provide voters with an ideal option. Until now, the institutional ingraining of Democratic and Republican hegemony has effectively served to silence third-party minorities in the political landscape. However, this election cycle has made it apparent that these voices can no longer be ignored if we are to step outside a system that is clearly failing us.

Further, even if a third-party vote is unlikely to result in the candidate’s victory, it still serves an important purpose. Voting for a third-party candidate allows discontented voters to send a message to those in political power: that they have considered their options and are not happy with either one. In this sense, third-party votes can act as a way of wrestling political power away from corrupt and unsatisfactory Democrats and Republicans. Next month’s election is one of the few chances voters get to send a clear message to those in power and express their dissatisfaction with the dominant parties.

It is fair to urge voters to evaluate the alternatives and consequences of their votes. The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been, and voting is not a decision to be made lightly. But rather than belittling those who do not feel they are represented by the two major parties, we should value their voices, listen to their positions and accept that their viewpoints enrich our political system. This may not happen unless serious systemic change is affected to rectify two-party dominance. Until then, we must continue to encourage true democracy by treating third-party votes as legitimate and purposeful.

The case against third-party voting

With so much at stake in this year’s presidential election, wasting votes on third-party candidates is not the responsible way to exercise political power. Not only can third-party candidates often be significantly less qualified than major-party candidates, but they also have the odds stacked against them at every step of the election. The fact of the matter is that a third-party candidate has never won a presidential election. They have, however, impacted election results by diverting votes away from major party candidates. While third-party supporters may rationalize their stance with reasons of morality, democratic ideals and political protest, they often fail to consider the repercussions of their vote.

Many third-party voters justify their vote with the morality argument. They contend that a citizen should vote for the candidate who most closely embodies their own beliefs, political ideologies and goals for the country. If a voter’s values do not align with those of the major-party candidates, they cannot morally justify voting for either one. Others may argue that “strategic voting” goes against the values of democracy — citizens should use their power to elect who they think is the best candidate, not to tactically keep one candidate out of office or support the lesser of two evils.

However, this rationale fails to take into account the real-life consequences of the election. While reality may be harsh for these voters, it is nearly impossible that their third-party candidate will be elected. While moral voting may be admirable and in line with the ideals of democracy, many individuals in our country simply cannot afford to vote this way — too much is at stake and too many people will be affected by the outcome of the election. Rather than wrestling votes away from the two major party candidates for moral reasons, the most rational, purposeful and effective way to vote is to choose the better option of those two candidates — one of which is bound to win.

Another argument that third-party voters often make is that their demonstration of third-party support will send a message to political leaders and help launch a larger movement against the two-party system. The problem with this type of protest voting, however, is that it is both untimely and unrealistic. A consequential presidential election is not the time to make a political statement or start a movement, it is the time to select the presidential candidate who will best serve our country. Further, authentic third-party growth can be achieved much more effectively by focusing on lower-level elections and building local support — not by starting at the national level. So, while attempts to show support for third parties and remedy the two-party system are admirable, they must be saved for another time and place.

Pragmatism when voting may not be glamorous, but it is the only way we as voters can actually have a say in how our country is run. In 2000, third-party votes made a decisive difference in swinging Florida. In 2016, they will continue to siphon votes from the major parties in lieu of their own agendas that are wholly implausible. The upcoming election is far too important to be reckless and impractical with our vote. If we are to put this country on the best track possible, we must be realistic and purposeful in how we elect our next leader.