In most individual cases the costs of voting significantly outweigh the benefits, making the act of and decision to vote irrational. This has been proven empirically. Thereby, the decision to turnout to vote is largely subjective. Many people vote not due to their belief in their ability to actually influence the election but rather out of feelings of civic duty and political activism. This accords with research demonstrating the significance of affect on voting behavior. People vote because it is individually rational, not because their vote actually matters. That being said, you should vote in the upcoming presidential election. But only vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
The likelihood of a 3rd party candidate being elected President of the United States is infinitesimal. When was the last time a 3rd party candidate was elected President of the United States? Never. And most 3rd party candidacies make no difference to the ultimate election results. As Bloomberg notes,
“Since the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 established a Republican-Democrat duopoly, third-party candidates have competed in some two dozen presidential elections, and all suffered crushing defeats. Just nine of them topped 5 percent of the popular vote. The eight most recent third-party attempts—including Ralph Nader in 2000 and Ross Perot in 1996 and 1992—failed to win a single electoral vote.
“The historical record has examples that run the gamut from the pre-Civil War Republicans who emerged from third-party status to become a major party replacing the Whigs, to countless third-party or independent candidates who have registered but a blip on the electoral screen,” said Walter Stone, a political science professor at the University of California at Davis.
“In the last century, no third-party candidate has topped 19 percent of the popular vote and all have come in a distant third place. The last such candidate to secure any electoral votes was segregationist George Wallace in 1968, who won five Southern states as he fought against the civil rights movement. Arguably the strongest third-party candidate was Progressive Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, who won six states en route to a landslide defeat at the hands of Democrat Woodrow Wilson.”
However, more recent 3rd party candidates have had more success due to the changing nature of the candidates and their candidacies.
“In a shift, the more recent third-party candidates over the last century ran in part to make a statement against the two-party system, in contrast to candidates like Wallace and centrist Republican John Anderson in 1980, who wanted to bolster ideologically losing factions within their own party.
“An important characteristic of most of the 20th century candidates in this vein is that they had belonged to major parties and broke away over policy and potentially also their own personal ambitions,” Julia Azari, a political science professor at Milwaukee’s Marquette University said. “This is different from candidates like Perot in 1992, Nader in 2000, or the general idea of something like Americans Elect, who specifically want to offer an alternative to the two parties.”
This approach is reflected in the 2016 candidacies of Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Each desires to speak to the American voter who feels under- and/or unrepresented by major party politics. The views of these candidates and their ability to speak to those who do not identify as either Democrat or Republican may seem especially enticing in this presidential election given the unfavorability and distrust of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Johnson and Stein may inspire citizens to vote when many Americans are unsure if they will show up on November 8th. That being said, while it is your right to cast a Libertarian or a Green ballot, you shouldn’t.
First, they can’t win. It may be argued that if voting is truly subjective then a vote for a 3rd party candidate for reasons of conscience or even reasons of politics is rational; it is not throwing away your vote. But as the presidential race between Clinton and Trump has tightened in recent weeks the ability of Stein, or more likely Johnson, to affect the outcome must be considered. And this is a possibility.
If you are voting for Johnson or Stein based on moral quandaries with Clinton and/or Trump or because you simply dislike their politics, this unfortunately is not a reason to vote for Johnson or Stein. Because they cannot win and it may affect the election. It is also unclear as to which major party candidate would benefit from a 3rd party candidate siphoning votes. Therefore, a vote for Johnson or Stein is effectively a vote for Trump or Clinton.
Even if you remain unmoved by these arguments consider for a moment their actual qualifications. Jill Stein is an awful candidate who seemingly does not understand economics, is an advocate of pseudoscience, has publicly advocated against vaccines, regularly engages in rewriting political history and engages in weaving governmental conspiracy theories along the lines of what you might hear from Donald Trump. Interviews such as the one below should disqualify her from the presidency.
Gary Johnson is similarly troubling. He doesn’t know anything about the TPP, is simultaneously for and against fracking, doesn’t understand the minimum wage, is a fiscal conservative you ballooned New Mexico’s debt when he was Governor, has no understandable position on climate change, is against vaccinations and famously has apparently never heard of Aleppo. Furthermore, he cannot name one world leader.
A vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein is both irrational, bad politics and wrong. Not only can neither of these candidates win, they are both bad candidates. But they could swing a close election. And that’s unacceptable.
Choosing between a vote for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has been described by many as choosing “the lesser of two evils”. And for many this may be accurate. However, it is also necessary. If you favor Clinton or Trump even slightly versus the other you must make that choice. Voting for Johnson or Stein may cost your minimal preference the election. Then where’s your benefit?