I'm With Her: Let's Talk 3rd Party Candidates

One thing we've all heard a lot of this election season is "well, both major party candidates are terrible, I don't want to vote for either of them." Personally I don't think this is true (I have another post planned about why I think this is a false equivalency), but for today let's stick to exploring the other options.

First, let's talk about the reality of third party candidates in the electoral college system. I think by now most people understand (generally) how presidential elections in the US work--the overall popular vote is not what matters, but rather the state by state popular votes that then decide the electoral college. Winning a significant percentage of the overall popular vote still leaves candidates seriously lacking in the electoral college--the last third party candidate to bring in large vote totals was Ross Perot in 1992, who won over 18% of the popular vote but zero electoral votes1. Given that the highest poll numbers for a third party candidate this election cycle are hovering under 10%, it's just not going to happen this year.

What we know CAN happen, though, is that votes going to those third party candidates can determine which of the two major party candidates wins. The most recent example of this was the infamous 2000 Election, where Ralph Nader appealed to left-leaning voters and likely siphoned more votes from Al Gore than he did from George W. Bush. Two states (Florida and New Hampshire) were ultimately won by Bush by margins significantly under Nader's vote total, so it is reasonable to assume that if Nader had not been on the ballot Gore would have won both2. Either state alone would have put Gore over the top in the electoral college.

So voting for a third party candidate means one of the major party candidates will win anyway, but it could be the one you disagree with more. In general I think the way to achieve change in the American system is to work within the parties and push them in the direction you want to go--essentially what Bernie Sanders has done this year. If you truly believe in a third party, though, then the work needs to begin at the ground level--build networks, win state and local races, gain attention and financial backing.

Now lets take a look at the significant third party candidates in this race. The third party voters I have heard from fall into two categories generally: progressives (many former supporters of Bernie Sanders) who are considering Green Party candidate Jill Stein and moderate Republicans who are considering Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

If you fall into either of these categories, the first thing I urge you to do is take the issue quiz at isidewith.com to see which candidates actually agree with you on most issues. I find many people are surprised--for example, Bernie Sanders supporters typically have very high levels of agreement with Hillary Clinton as well as Jill Stein. Sanders is no longer in the results, since he has conceded and endorsed Clinton--but before he withdrew I took the quiz, as did many people I know, and every result I saw that had high numbers for Sanders had Clinton within 2%.

If you consider the above argument that third party votes just sway which major candidate is elected, then bear that in mind. Do you want to vote for someone you agree with 1-2% more so that the candidate you vehemently disagree with is elected? And in the case of Stein, it is truly hard to argue she is a valid national candidate when she is not even on the ballot in every state.3 Furthermore, in my opinion Stein holds some questionable beliefs--despite being a medical doctor, she either has a stunning disregard for science or she is guilty of pandering to people who don't believe in it.4 I have very little tolerance for science deniers.

Those considering voting for Johnson are often surprised by the poll results as well, because while Libertarianism may sound appealing at first glance the details sometimes get in the way. While many moderate Republicans and even conservatives don't like "big government", they do tend to support things like Medicare, Social Security, and the military as well as some common sense regulations on issues like the environment, health concerns, and guns. Moderates in particular may find they have quite a bit more in common with Hillary Clinton than they realized. Conservatives may find some of his stances more appealing, but will likely have questions about his track record as a governor, when he significantly increased state spending.5 In fact, Rolling Stone nicely breaks down why Johnson should be suspect for people on all sides of the political spectrum.

And finally, despite the fact that many people profess love for candidates from "outside the system", the reality is that in order to govern a President has to work within the system. A third party president will have no one in Congress to write and pass legislation in support of his or ideas. Furthermore, Jill Stein is a true outsider in that she has never held a single elected office--she has no experience with how government works or how to get things done. I urge voters to think of their role as that of a hiring manager this election season--if these were the job applicants for the position of CEO of the country, which would you choose?

1 http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/national.php?year=1992
2 https://www.uvm.edu/~dguber/POLS125/articles/pomper.htm (See the case made under "Geography of the Vote." The other scholarly works I found on this topic all agreed that although the margin may have been narrower than people would think, a Nader-less race would have resulted in Gore winning Florida at a minimum.)
3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jill_Stein_presidential_campaign,_2016#Ballot_status
4 http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2016/07/27/jill_stein_is_not_the_savior_the_left_is_looking_for.html
5 http://www.nationalreview.com/article/435704/gary-johnson-libertarian-party-2016-conservatives