This time of year, everyone is a little disappointed in the major party candidates on the ballot. Sometimes it’s because the candidates are simply lacking. More often, I think it’s because opposing candidates have been beating up on each other for several months. Third party candidates are more appealing at times because they can cater to your niche political philosophy or because they have not had to broaden their appeal to the lowest common denominator or because they simply haven’t been the focus of attacks. In close races, you’ll hear discussion about how a third-party candidate is a spoiler “taking” votes from one of the major party candidates.
My personal philosophy (but hardly unique to me) is that you vote your heart in the primary and vote your head in the general. Vote who you think would make the best office holder in the primary; vote against who you think would make the worst office holder in the general.
I agree with Andy Horning – the Libertarian candidate for Senate – when he says that he isn’t “taking” anyone’s vote. He is right, the vote belongs to the citizen, not the candidate. So, I don’t think candidates or parties are justified in taking a proprietary view of anyone’s vote, regardless of who they vote for.
That said, if it is clear that only two candidates have a statistically probable chance of winning and if it is of any importance at all to you whether one of those two candidates wins the office or loses the office, then the logic of the math dictates that voting for a third candidate makes it slightly more likely that the outcome you favor least will come to pass.
But, I often hear, if we just keep playing the two party game, nothing will ever change. The problem with this rationale is that the two party system has remained mostly static since the creation of our Republic. If that’s going to change, it’s not going to be because some negligible percentage of people show up on election day and cast third party votes. I think it would require sustained effort at a local level, working upward with a goal of changing our voting system to include proportional representation or instant run off voting or something. Getting to the polls on election day, grumbling about your selections, and casting a vote for a third party candidate might feel good, but history suggests it’s not going to change anything.
But worse, in my opinion, are people who are too invested in their sense of political purity to dirty themselves with the major party candidates. More than one person I know thinks that political parties themselves are a corruption of the political system; maybe citing the Founder’s warnings against “faction.” Corruption or no, they exist and they are effective for the acquisition of political power. No matter how much more noble the single cell organism might be, it simply can’t compete against the multicellular organism to whom it is, more likely than not, food. Evolution, in biology or politics, goes with the organism that is successful in replicating itself and doesn’t give a damn about the details of that replication so long as it works.
So, get out and vote; and, when you cast your vote, give some thought to the math behind what you’re doing.