Wasting a Vote

From the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution in the Vote: The Machinery of Democracy exhibit, found on Wikipedia Commons.
From the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution in the Vote: The Machinery of Democracy exhibit, found on Wikipedia Commons.


Throughout the 2016 campaign, we’ve heard it said that a vote for third and fourth party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, is a vote for Donald Trump. I reject this notion. In 2000, Ralph Nader was blamed for siphoning liberal voters away from Al Gore, thus costing him the election, but the reality was that the people who voted for Nader most likely would not have voted for Gore anyway, and, in most cases, wouldn’t have voted at all. The real problem with third and fourth party candidates in elections is that they bring more people to the polls, and this may be one reason why turnout is much higher during national election cycles, since that’s mainly the time such candidates are on the ballot. That’s probably why Democrats and Republicans work to discourage third and fourth party options, because the higher the turnout, the more unpredictable the overall race becomes. In 2008, for instance, candidate Barack Obama brought out record numbers of black and hispanic voters, many of whom voted in favor of Proposition 8 in California, which made same sex marriage illegal in that state — an unintended consequence for the liberals who supported Obama.

In 1992 and 1996, Ross Perot garnered enough votes to establish the Reform Party as a legitimate party at the national level. Had he truly been interested in heading a political movement for change, and not just sticking it to the Bushes and the Republicans, he had a strong foundation to build on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his motive and as a result, the only high profile candidate ever elected to office on the Reform ticket was Jesse Ventura in Minnesota, which he pretty much did on his own. The Reform Party existed as nothing more than a vehicle for Perot to run for president and invested no money in getting candidates elected to the House and Senate or to other statewide offices. By contrast, the Tea Party movement, which arose in the wake of Obama’s election, and which attracted many of the former Reform Party voters, focused on electing candidates at the state level and succeeded in permanently altering the face of the Republican Party, to the detriment of all.

Our current crop of politicians fear third and fourth parties because they would completely alter the way politics is done in Washington. They could no longer foster the illusion of bipartisanship or the “loyal” opposition and would find themselves having to morph into a parliamentary system instead. They’d have to work toward building coalitions instead of conducting useless exercises in political theater to give the appearance of opposition when, in fact, both parties serve whichever corporate interests are padding their pockets. It’s no wonder that so much effort goes into scaring the public into supporting either major party, or making the process so abhorrent to discourage dissenting voters from coming to the polls. As a result, the politicians get the system that best suits their needs, making their corporate overlords very happy.

The rise of Trump has left the two-party tyranny that controls the system in a tough position, as he’s a loose canon who’s impossible to control. One can argue that he’s the inevitable consequence of a system that relies on creating boogie men to scare the electorate away from reforming the system, which has so greatly rewarded the major parties for generations. The way the game works is, each side selects candidates the public at large has no interest in, then pits their bases against one another, with admonitions of, “We can’t let this person win the White House!” The outrage expressed by those who trumpet each new revelation about Trump isn’t designed to change the minds of his supporters, rather than affect those who are still, inexplicably, on the fence about the election. I already know the candidate for whom I’m not going to vote. No polls, debates, or shocking headlines are going to change that.

This is where Clinton’s political savvy begins to shine through. For months, we’ve been bombarded by stories about Benghazi, and emails, and the Clinton Foundation, so there’s very little else her opponents can lob at her. Trump, on the other hand, has enjoyed a rather cozy relationship with the national media, who has largely given him a pass on his racist and misogynistic rhetoric, reporting on it but not pressing him on it. Now that we are within a few weeks of the election, the Clinton campaign can unleash all its fire power against Trump at just the time it’s likely to have the most impact. We’ve already seen Trump reduced to displaying his brand of humility over inflammatory statements he’s made about women, and the real campaign is only just getting started. The irony is that Trump has as many enemies on the Republican side as on the Democratic side, making their focus denying him the White House rather than supporting Clinton.

The Democrats still need to focus on retaking Congress, though. Clinton is still not the perfect candidate, and many voters have grave reservations about her and may take advantage of their other options. The Democrats need to capitalize on the outrage people are feeling to insure that it translates into voters at the polls. Gary Johnson will most likely draw his support from disgruntled Republicans, and currently, Jill Stein isn’t polling high enough to be much of a threat to Clinton, though anything can happen in politics in the United States. The voters have consistently shown they need to be invested in the outcome, and offering them the opportunity to dislodge a few deadweight incumbents is the perfect way to accomplish this. Clinton has enough money and influence to weather most of what her opponent is liable to throw at her, barring any missteps, so the party needs to hammer away at those campaigns that promise the most gain for them. If Clinton is elected without gaining one chamber of Congress, all we can expect is four more years of the stalemate we’ve been seeing under Obama.

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