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Is a vote for a third party really a wasted vote?

Seeing as we are in the midst of the 2012 Presidential election, with lines in the sand being drawn between otherwise civil friends and acquaintances, I feel it’s appropriate to comment on an oft ignored issue that comes around every four years.

I have friends and family who are both Republicans and Democrats of varying degrees who take varying stances on a myriad of issues. This means every time an election season rolls around, especially over the Presidency, there are feuds, fights and many refuse to speak to each other until the end of election, or more often than not, Inauguration Day. With so much vitriol going around on both sides, it is of special frustration to me due to the fact I am a supporter of a third party.

As any of the more faithful readers of my articles should know, when talking politics I always try to take a centrist approach, due to both my desire not to alienate friends or readers of differing views, and that I am of the firm belief that most issues can be solved by a more pragmatic centrist approach, if only the folks on both sides would take the time to discuss them. It also helps that, for the most part, I like to think my views are not all that controversial – I am an ardent supporter of the first amendment rights, free market capitalism, limited government, and take the Jeffersonian standpoint toward social values, ie, if it doesn’t affect my own life of my lifestyle, I generally think people can and should do as they please.

Needless to say, between the two main parties we have in the US, I am not really welcome on either side of the fence. For the Democrats, I am too much against centralized government, bureaucracy, entitlement programs and market controls. For the Republicans, I am too much against their own moralistic approach to governing people’s personal lives, pushing of religious dogma, and their own brand of centralized government. In regards to both, I am dead set against deficit spending and pork projects, cardinal sins of both parties. As a result, I commit the biggest unspoken sin in the American electorate – I vote based off on my conscious, as opposed to toeing a party line.

This has earned me no end of ridicule, scorn and concern from my family and friends on both sides, who feel I am wasting my vote and support on meaningless third parties, or that my interests would be better served by choosing one side or the other for the issues we do agree on, and swallowing my pride on the rest.

There is some merit to that argument – at this moment, even the largest of third parties, like the Libertarians, Constitutionalists, Greens, Modern Whigs and the rest, have an absolutely pitiful prescience in both media and government representation possessed by the Democrats and Republicans. Few put out serious candidates, if any for local or regional offices, leaving many like myself to vote for which of the two parties’ candidate meets the most of my own views. There is no denying that the political system as is has been set up so that our two party system is nigh unassailable – the last time a third party candidate was elected to the Presidency was Abraham Lincoln and the then third-party Republicans, and the only two serious attempts since then where Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives in 1912 and Ross Perot and the Reform party in 1992, and the only effect either of them had was tipping the election to one of the two other candidates.

So, yes, the deck is stacked heavily against any prospective third party. 2012 may be the first time since Perot where a third party candidate, specifically Libertarian Gary Johnson, even manages to get more than a million votes. And there is still no denying that people who vote party line waste their vote every bit as much as the folks voting for a third party.

While a few partisans may disagree, I’m sure more than a majority know exactly what I mean. Since JFK, aside from perhaps Reagan and Clinton, every President, regardless of which party he belongs to, LBJ to Obama all increased both the power and scope of government, and each left a trail of broken promises in their wake. Aside from a brief tenure under Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, every Congress regardless of who controlled it has both racked up massive deficits and record levels of pork barrel spending and corruption, and yet retains somewhere around a 95% incumbency rate. Not surprisingly, skepticism and apathy toward US politics has reached all time highs as a result, and in a strange line of doublethink, so has blind partisan loyalty, in spite of the fact that at least in DC, there is little to no difference between a Republican and a Democrat in the way they govern, as are the results: a stagnant batch of bureaucrats increasingly out-of-touch and disdainful of the very electorate they were voted in to represent.

The current election season has provided ample examples of this for those who care to see it. In last night’s debate alone, there was a moment where both President Obama and Governor Romney were fighting over who would spend more money on Medicare, when the exact opposite is what’s needed and asked for by the American people. To use another Orwell reference, it was like a moment straight from the end of Animal Farm – you stare at both the pigs and the people long enough, you realize they’re one and the same.

It would not be the first or last moment like this during the campaign like that. To use last night’s debate as another example, we had President Obama promising lower taxes, balanced budgets, drilling for oil and natural gas, and endorsing gun rights and President Bush, whereas Governor Romney promised to support entitlement spending, the DREAM act, women’s contraceptives, government intervention in the economy, while trashing President Bush - this, in spite of the two candidates running on records and platforms promising the exact opposite. You could be forgiven for wondering who was running on which ticket if you’d watched the debate, and doubting anything promised by either candidate is almost a must at this point. Forget ‘Forward’ or ‘Believe in America’ – the motto here is ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss’.

Is there any surprise that when the two main candidates running for President are as interchangeable as their positions and promises that our Political system is in as much trouble as it is today? Congress boasts an average incumbency rate of over 95%, with an appalling number of seats passed down to family members of previous occupants, and has a majority of its members who went to the same colleges and worked as lawyers prior to their election. The Presidency is hardly any better – since 1888, there are a dozen or so families that have had a member either nominated or elected to either the Presidency or Vice Presidency in 23 of the last 31 Presidential Elections – since 1980 alone, all but the last two have seen either a Bush or a Clinton as President or Vice President, and only Ronald Reagan didn’t go to an Ivy League school or work as a lawyer. It’s a political stagnation that has left our government moribund and the people at the top little better than a political aristocracy, largely thanks to the two parties, whose biggest difference in running the country is their marketing strategy toward getting voters, the voice of whom has meant less and less to DC over the last few decades.

Given all of that, why do so many people buy the line that voting for a third party is a wasted vote, and are then told to hold their nose and vote for whichever candidate they are told is the lesser evil. That’s crap America – the only time you waste a vote is when you go for that lesser evil, following orders instead of your conscious. We the people wouldn’t accept that anywhere else, nor should we, and it’s about time that we stop accepting that as the status quo with our government. In the end, that’s the wonderful thing about representative democracy – no matter how bad things get, all it takes to fix things is an aware and motivated citizenry to make their voices be heard at the ballot box, and there isn’t a damn thing DC can do to stop it.

I can only hope someday more Americans will waste their votes like I do – if the electorate voted with their conscious rather than toeing the party line, for once we might get some politicians who would do the same thing. Then, for once, maybe that vote would make a difference.

gene's picture
Executive CommitteeWhig
Joined: 04/08/2011

Yeah, nothing new there, its a dead old horse aint it. The change we need is both internal ( intellectual) and operational.

One, MWP is NOT a third party. We are THE MIDDLE PARTY. Period. Not green, not libertarian, not TP, the MIDDLE Party. There are more than three parties, so it ist logical. what the term "third party" ASSUMES is continued dominance of the bipartisan system. I might request we unass that assumption from our minds and get to work on making the alternative a REALITY.

Two, and we are just about to change the website on this, we need to promote, with dilligence and vigor, ALTERNATIVE VOTING. On this ballot, you can vote more than once. So while you still may consider it a "wasted vote", at the least you can vote for more than one candidate.

The literal plurality of our ballots is causing a number of systemic factors, the two most important of which are, 1.) allowing the continued oligarchical control of the system by the two oldest parties, and 2.) causing an artifical division amongst the candidates to the political poles.

The electorate is not naturally polarized. The process, the actors, the ballots, the media, etc cause it to be so.

So we start at the core, the focus of it, the ballot. ALTERNATIVE VOTING is part of the solution.

METHODOLOGY OVER IDEOLOGY. And here is one concrete example of it.

From another POV altogheter, I hope we were successful in putting TJ O-Hara's name on the ballot in NY. Why? Some of my friends simply WILL NOT vote for the corporate candidates. They will not WASTE THEIR VOTE on "much ado about nothing change". They want a Whig to vote for, so they dont WASTE THEIR VOTE on the same old same old. As acting NY Chair, its my job to give them that option.

Gene Chaas, CFA
Charter Member of MWP (2008)

NY Whig - State Committee Chair

MWP - Northeastern Regional Chair/National Treasurer



Joined: 06/09/2012

Gary Johnson is certainly going to have an impact on this election. Nationally, he is polling at about 6%, but in certain states such as the swing state of Colorado, he is polling at 15%. He is on the ballot in 48 states and DC, a write in candidate in one (Michigan), and still litigating in the last (Oklahoma). A vote for Gary Johnson is not a wasted vote. A vote for something you don't believe in is.


Joined: 11/12/2012

I've actually argued that, for most Americans, top-of-the-ticket vote for a Democratic or Republican candidate is wasted.

Although the national popular vote was, of course, in doubt, US President is not actually a national election, it's 51 state (plus DC) elections. If the outcome was a foregone conclusion in your state, which it was for most Americans (e.g., California, Texas, New York, Illinois, etc.), an additional vote for the winner in your state, or for the other, is wasted.

On the other hand, a vote for a third party, even assuming they have no chance to win, does have meaning. Many states have restrictive ballot access laws, and a third-party vote for President can help that party maintain their ballot access for the next election cycle, allowing them to nominate scores of individuals to local offices. A large and/or growing vote for a particular third party (or related parties) also sends an important signal to elected officials from other parties. For example, after George Wallace picked up more than 10% of the popular vote in 1968, the Republican Party adopted the "Southern strategy", and after Ross Perot garnered nearly 19% running as a deficit hawk in 1992, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993.

Joined: 10/15/2013

This is not an easy yes or no question. The answer is more of a yes and no.

If in an election one candidate does not represent your views, but the other represents a platform that directly opposes your views, and the race is close, then yes a third party vote could be wasted. Protest votes are good, but not if that protest can possibly cause you harm.

Now if both established party candidates are equally repulsive, then yes a protest vote is a very good thing. In fact I think all voters should have a box they can mark that says "None of the Above" for each race, at least until other viable parties come along.

I see 2016 as being a good test for protest votes and independent candidates. As things stand currently it looks to be a possible Hillary Clinton vs whichever Republican passes the TP purity test. I think this match up gives a good opportunity for a protest vote to either win, or take in enough votes to shake up the established parties feeling of invincibility.


South Central Michigan

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