There is no such thing as a wasted vote, or is there? While no Third-Party candidate has ever won a Presidential, there have been ones who've played spoiler in the process. So let's take a look at how Third-Party ballots can affect an election to answer the broader question of whether that vote was actually wasted or not.
Should you consider voting third party? Well, that depends……
I was asked this recently in a Facebook post by fellow Pearl Jammer Dave Hutchins but it’s not the first time I've gotten that question. Conventional wisdom, with historical backing, says that because we have only two major parties, one of them is always going to win. I’ve already discussed that third party voting in 2016 was the biggest reason for the Trump victory. So if your question is, can third party voting affect a Presidential election, you can simply read that one and you’ll find out why I believe the answer is absolutely yes.
But a lot of other questions come out of that. Questions like, is there a benefit to voting for a third party, and will we ever get to a point where a third party or nonpartisan candidate can become viable in a Presidential election? I’m going to dive into these points and a few more step by step.
Will a candidate other than a Republican or a Democrat ever win the White House?
Probably Not. While I could dive into this deeper, let’s consult history to face the reality which is that no third-party candidate has ever even come close to winning a Presidential election. Heck, even third-party candidates who win elections other than Presidential ones are generally just former party members who switched their registration at some point.
We’ve had 45 Presidents now, and all of them have had a Republican or Democrat next to their name. Theodore Roosevelt, running as the “Progressive” party nominee in 1912, received the highest number ever, at 27.86%, and finished runner up in what amounted to a political stunt at the time. Then there is good ole Ross Perot, who while receiving almost 20 million actual votes, good for 18.91% of that popular vote, got exactly ZERO electoral votes in the end.
So folks, we simply don’t ever have a third-party candidate coming close, just spoilers at best (something I promise to get to later). But the simple answer here prevails. Unless something changes, electing an actual third-party candidate as President is simply slim to none. That is unless, you have the optimism of Lloyd Christmas, and seeing this you’re thinking, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” In that case, happy to “throw a few shrimp on the barbie” as we visit Austria together.
Can a candidate other than a Republican or a Democrat ever win the White House?
OK, now we’re asking the right question! Of course one could. And heck, frankly one SHOULD!
Look, while we are incredibly unlikely, especially given our current climate, to ever see a it happen, the reason for this is fairly alarming. Here is why:
“American voters are generally skeptical that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would make a “great” or “good” president. But another dynamic in the 2016 presidential election is the significant share of voters who say their vote is based more on which candidate they are against rather than which one they are for.”
- Pew Research 9/2/2016
According to Pew in 2016, basically only HALF of those voting for Trump or Hillary did so because they thought Trump or Hillary was “a good candidate.” In fact, according to Pew Research Center survey, “46% (Of Clinton supporters) say their vote is more against Trump…..among Trump supporters: 53% say their vote is primarily against Clinton.” So you can see right there, that we don’t have voters actually voting FOR Trump or Hillary because they like them, it’s because they are AGAINST the other candidate!
"Grace Link, 20, is a college student from the crucial swing state of Wisconsin. She wants to vote in her first ever presidential election, but is unhappy with her options. It's very easy to see when money and power within a party come into play to suppress young people," she said. "We're essentially being guilted into voting for Joe Biden and for whomever the Democratic Party chooses.."
- BBC News 9/11/2020
But of course, Grace didn’t have to vote for Biden, did she? She could have voted, and may have, for a third-party candidate instead. Look, if voters like Grace aren’t thrilled with their choices, and Grace represents (if we use the Pew 2016 study) 46% of the Biden or Hillary vote, then yeah, in theory of course a third-party candidate COULD, and probably SHOULD win!
This conclusion becomes more firm with every voter we talk to. You see, it’s not just voters like Grace who are holding third-party candidates back. That same BBC News article actually quoted a lot of people who felt the same way Grace did. The only difference between some of those and Grace was that come of them were, or are, so disheartened, they DIDN’T EVEN VOTE AT ALL! One such voter in the article, Hrant Papazian, An Armenian immigrant who grew up in Lebanon during a civil war that spanned three decades, said “I don’t feel like playing along. The only way for real change is for us to boycott.”
We also know, at least according to the 2020 US Census, that there were quite a few voters out there, like Mr. Papazian. While the Census relies on self-reporting, they did speak with over 12 million REGISTERED voters who reported not voting for a variety of reasons. Of those 12.8 million plus, more than four million of them stated that they either “did not like the candidates” or that they simply were “not interested!” Heck, another 22.90%, or almost three million said they were “too busy,” “out of town,” or “forgot.” I could be wrong, but it sure doesn’t sound like those folks cared enough to actually get to the polls and and vote either Donald Trump or Joe Biden! And, of course, that’s just among registered voters. Let’s not forget (again, according to that same 2020 Census Data) that more than an estimated one quarter (27.3%) of all eligible voters….are not even registered to vote! (Now, to be fair, 11.1% of those self reported not being registered to vote, while 16.2% did not give a reason and were assumed to be unregistered, but still…)
But of course, voters like Papzian don’t have to boycott, and voters like Grace don’t have to suck it up and vote for a party nominee, do they? The reality is their voices are far more powerful than they actually realize.
To prove it, let’s review.
1. Voters voting AGAINST one candidate as opposed to FOR another candidate (as many as 77 million)
2. Registered Voters not actually voting (As high as 55 million Americans)
3. Potential Voters not bothering to register to vote. (As high as 63 million)
4. Actual Third-Party Votes. (7 plus million)
5. TOTAL…….over, wait for it…200 Million.
Can you believe that? The reality at the end of the day is that we have 200 million eligible or possible voters who don’t like the Republican or Democrat. For context, Joe Biden won the popular vote in 2020 with a little over 81 million. Biden’s vote total represents only one third of that number…one...freaking…third! Get my drift? So yeah, a Third-Party candidate absolutely 100% CAN win the White House IF…voters simply voted FOR candidates instead of voting AGAINST THEM!
So, given that it is possible, but also unlikely, to elect a Third-Party candidate, should you, Grace, or Mr. Papazian consider voting for one? Let’s break that down by talking about the benefits, and consequences, of third-party voting.
Are there possible consequences to voting for a third party-candidate? – Let’s ask George Bush and Ross Perot!
“Read My Lips, NO NEW TAXES”
– George Herbert Walker Bush, i.e. Bush 41
It’s tough to say whether Ross Perot would have mattered or not had Bush 41 never uttered that phrase. But he uttered it, and then later, raised em . Depending on who you ask, Bush had to it. He gave a good enough explanation for it. It’s just that voters, whether ignorant, smart, or indifferent, were furious. They felt lied to. And that statement lost him an election in the end.
Did you know that when Bill Clinton was elected, he “won” with less than 45% of the popular vote (43.01%)? Yeah, George Bush lost by less than 6 points in that election. It was an election where Ross Perot got almost 20%, darn near half Clinton’s vote total. In other words, give Bush a third of the Perot total, and well, and there is no Clinton presidency, and America never gets to watch John Goodman play Linda Tripp on Saturday Night Live.
Here is the most amazing stat:
In 1992, Bill Clinton “flipped” 19 states. Of the 19 states that went Bush in 1988 but Clinton in 1992, there was ONLY ONE (Clinton's home state of Arkansas) where Ross Perot’s vote total was not higher than Clinton’s margin of victory! George Bush lost those states by over 2.4 million votes while Ross Perot collected over 6 million votes in those same states, nearly TRIPLE the margin.
So the consequence here? Those upset Republicans voting ole Ross Perot were the reason Bill Clinton was elected. And let’s not forget, unlike Trump’s one term, Clinton ended up serving two. In other words, yeah, you risk electing a candidate you dislike worse than the one you already dislike!
What are the benefits of voting for a third-party candidate?
Great Question! Well, we’ve already discussed the first benefit, which is that it’s theoretically, and mathematically possible to actually elect a third-party candidate (although unlikely). However, there are actually other potential benefits, it's just they aren’t actually immediate ones.
Let’s compare 1992 to 2016. 1992 Bill Clinton was loved by all Democrats. 2016 Hillary Clinton? Not really. Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the far left progressive movement never got on board. They couldn’t stomach Hillary Clinton, and they threw a BIG middle finger at Clinton and the DNC. For more on this, you can read more on the specifics here in one of my earlier posts.
In 2016, progressives showed they meant businesses by allowing Trump to be elected. While the DNC assumed those would hold their nose and vote for Hillary, they didn’t! National Democrats, and the Clinton campaign, made an assumption (hint: most campaigns would have) and that assumption cost them and election. It brought them Trump. OK, so that sounds like a consequence, right? While it may be, it turns out that the consequence was only a short term one. So, depending on how you feel about policy and which issues matter most, the long term benefit can outweigh the short term consequence.
Let me explain. First, here was my 30 second answer to my friend Dave’s initial question
“2016 was record third party voting, more than 3x any % in the last two decades. That contributed to the Trump win but the only permanent thing Trump was able to do was his Supreme Court nominations. Trump's win in 2016 actually became a huge progressive win for 2020. Unlike 16, the DNC was forced to bring Sanders and AOC to the table as part of Biden's policy initiatives. Hillary wouldn't have been obligated, like Biden was, to do the same had she won.”
Yeah, what he (I) said. But let me also quote Politico from all the way back in May of 2020, six months ahead of the 2020 election.
“Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday named the co-chairs and members of their joint task forces….to establish working groups to advise the Biden campaign on six key policy areas: climate change, criminal justice reform, economy, education, health care, and immigration….The task forces’ membership consists of a stable of prominent Democratic leaders and public policy experts, but its most notable appointee is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive New York congresswoman and superstar of the party’s left wing.”
There it is. In 2016, Bernie and AOC did NOT have a seat at the DNC table. They weren’t asked or included in and public policy decisions. AOC and her Green New Deal wasn’t given the time of day. Sanders expansion on universal healthcare wasn’t seriously entertained. Progressives were pandered to, but not actually listened to. But in 2020? They not only had a seat at the table, it was a seat next to the Throne, and a house next door to the King.
And here's the kicker. After enduring four years of Trump, Joe Biden got straight to work on his first day in office undoing as many Trump policies as he possibly could.
“Today, hours after taking the oath of office, President-elect Biden will take a historic number of actions …..including….tackling climate change, and advancing racial equity. President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward….”
-The White House 1/20/2021
I mean, look at all the things progressives got! They got climate change measures, emissions standards, and a whole lot more. Meanwhile, Biden pretty much undid every Trump policy he could find, signing over a dozen executive orders on his first day!
Look, Progressives got a heck of a lot more from Biden than they ever would have been able to extract from Hillary. They just had to wait out four years of Trump to get them. The only permanent thing Trump did was alter the Supreme Court with his picks. While the picks are permanent, if progressives pushed Biden far enough, even that could be essentially undone with enough support to “pack the courts” and expand the Supreme Court.
So was it worth it? Well, you decide for yourself. But for Bernie Sanders, AOC, and the squad? It was 100% worth it for them.
So, is it a “waste” to vote for a candidate other than the Democrat or Republican Nominee?
Hopefully I have shown that, OF COURSE IT’S NOT! Even if that vote doesn’t bring you a better candidate this election, I think we’ve successfully shows it can bring you a better candidate in 4-8 years.
The question again, is simple, asked here in three parts that summarize my previous points.
1. Are you prepared to walk through four years with the alternative?
2. Are you better prepared knowing that there isn’t much during those four years that cannot be undone?
3. Do you need to buy today, or can you wait four years for a better product?
Mystery Question and Example
I’ll make this quick, but I do think it’s important to elaborate on Clinton’s eight years in office, and what that meant for Republicans. The simple answer again? Newt Gingrich! But it also meant control of the House, and a system of checks and balances. Let’s never forget Clinton was enormously unpopular after two years. Republicans capitalized and voters countered their Clinton vote by voting in Republican House members. So, unlike 2016 voters, Republicans really only had to ride out two years of Clinton before they started seeing some benefits. That of course, is a whole other post in itself for another day.
But, the conclusion here? It depends on what matters most to you most. Just know, that if every eligible voter out there who didn’t like either nominee voted together in a block, Democrats or Republicans wouldn’t stand a chance at being elected. Like Bill Clinton and Joe Biden, they’d be forced to give those voters a seat at the table and actually listen.
Easier said than done, but I’m gonna quote Lloyd Christmas one final time
“So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”
Yeah, I’m telling you there’s a chance, and it may just be better than “more like one in a million.”