Rethinking ‘wasted votes’ and third-party candidates

Rethinking ‘wasted votes’ and third-party candidates

Hat-tip to Canon212: “‘Reveal the Will of the People’!? – Acton Inst. advocates for Hillary presidency by proxy (via third party ‘conservative’ votes)”. A vote for someone other than Hillary or the Donald is a vote for Hillary. Also Mr. Mech’s boss at the Acton Institute (Fr. Robert Sirico) says the following in the Wall Street Journal concerning the VP choices (to juxtapose a well-known aphorism: “What’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose”):

Messrs. Pence and Kaine have, for example, quite different policy ideas. Mr. Pence is a free marketer. Mr. Kaine describes himself as a “ Pope Francis Catholic,” presumably to underscore his identification with the pope on social, environmental and economic matters. But these issues are mostly prudential.

Catholics can and do exhibit a wide range of views on many, if not most, political and economic issues. There isn’t a church-supported position on the ideal corporate income-tax rate, nor must the faithful hold specific views about climate change. That said, a Catholic’s political views must be consistent with the faith. Catholic politicians should advocate policies that help the needy and care for the planet, but the church leaves it up to policy makers to debate the best way of achieving those goals.

That doesn’t mean that the church welcomes all political views: Surely Mr. Kaine can’t claim to be a “Pope Francis Catholic” on abortion. The notion that a Catholic can be “personally” opposed to abortion while supporting laws that legalize the procedure is simply inconsistent with Catholic teaching. It conflicts not only with Pope Francis but with 2,000 years of tradition. The Virginia senator’s recent decision to reverse his longstanding support for the Hyde Amendment, which limits public funding for abortion, puts even greater distance between him and the pontiff.

Key doctrinal and moral rules apply to all Catholics in all contexts—in business, at home, or in elective office. One cannot “personally” oppose something while making a living advocating it.

Friday, July 29, 2016
By Nathan Mech

When it comes to something as important as a presidential election, most Americans don’t want to vote for a candidate who will very likely lose. But pragmatic considerations have no place in the voting booth, for two reasons. First, one person’s vote almost certainly won’t impact a presidential election. Second, voting for someone we consider the “lesser of two evils” loses sight of the value of the voting process. We should, instead, vote for whomever we think is best for the office, regardless of his or her likelihood of winning. More and more voters are beginning to approach the election in this way.

Well over 50 candidates ran for president in 2012, 26 of whom had ballot access in at least one state. Ninety-eight percent of the popular vote went to just two of those candidates. The third place finisher, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, finished with just 1 percent of the popular vote.

This year is looking to be dramatically different. Gary Johnson and presumptive Green Party nominee Jill Stein have been receiving as high as 13 percent and 7 percent in national polls, respectively. These numbers are higher than those any third-party candidate has received in a general election since Ross Perot in 1992.

These numbers are partly the result of the fact that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have the lowest favorability ratings for major United States presidential candidates ever measured. Dissatisfaction with the Republican and Democratic candidates was evident at the Republican National Convention, when, instead of endorsing Donald Trump, Ted Cruz told voters to “vote your conscience.” Along with Cruz, many voters are wondering if they are morally obliged to vote against both Trump and Clinton.

The most common objection to independent and third-party options is rooted in pragmatic concerns: a vote for any third-party candidate is a wasted vote, or even worse, an implicit vote for the worse of the two major-party candidates.

Even some voters who identify themselves with third parties are influenced by this way of thinking about elections. Wayne Allyn Root, for example, the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2008, said recently at FreedomFest: “If you want to know whose side you should be on, there’s only two candidates. Please don’t try to tell me there’s a third or fourth – there aren’t. It’s either Hillary or it’s Donald Trump.”

The purpose of voting is clear: to reveal the will of the people. As Americans, we should do what we can to foster an election process that brings forth the candidates who best align with the will of the people. Trump and Clinton’s favorability ratings show that our election system, in its current state, is horrible at doing that.

This problem can be described more formally as a mismatch between voter preference and voter choice. What we’ve run into resembles what economists call a “collective action problem.”

A classic example of a collective action problem occurs when competing fisheries each overfish, leading to depletion of fish populations. All the fishermen know that in an ideal world, each fisherman would take the same number of fish. But the incentive to be the one person who comes out ahead by overfishing, as well as the fear of being the one person who does not overfish, destroys the fish population and hurts everyone in the long run.

Similarly, when it comes to the U.S. presidential election, we make compromises and limit our own voting options because we think voting independent or third-party will leave all the decision making power in the hands of other voters. If we vote for a candidate with low winning chances, our vote won’t have any impact on the election. The problem with this reasoning is that no matter who we vote for, our vote won’t impact the election, because in order to have that kind of impact, the election must be decided by just one vote. The probability of this happening is clearly negligible.

This problem, then, impacts voter choice as if it were a collective action problem, but lacks the incentive structure of such a problem. In the example above, to take one’s fair share of fish is to give up something significant. But by choosing to vote for a candidate with low winning chances, one does not give up any control of the election results, because none was really had in the first place.

In the fishing illustration, overfishing is a collectively irrational decision but an individually rational decision, in the sense of cost-benefit analysis. But voting for a presidential candidate who isn’t one’s first choice is both collectively irrational and individually irrational, because there’s nothing notable to be gained by doing so. For this reason, voting third-party is not overly idealistic or unrealistic; voting two-party when you prefer a third-party candidate is. After all, what assumption is more unrealistic than the idea that there is a notable chance of the presidential election being decided by only one vote?

So if one vote won’t make an impact, why should the average American vote at all?

The United States is like a ship we’re all rowing – if one person quits rowing, the rest of us won’t feel a difference on our oars, but if many of us quit, we lose control of the direction of our ship. This makes rowing a noble act of solidarity. Voting is the primary means by which the United States remains of the people, by the people, and for the people. Not all of us need to participate to attain this end, but is doing one’s part for the common good not also a worthwhile act?

I’m not arguing that we have a duty or moral obligation to vote. But it should not be said that there is no moral value in voting or that voting is a waste of time.

Voting for a candidate we consider the “lesser of two evils” loses sight of this value.

When one votes for a political candidate, she is also voting for the kind of electoral system she wants. If one prefers a candidate other than Clinton or Trump but buys into the idea of a two-party system and casts a vote for one of the major-party candidates, she is also, intentionally or not, voting for an electoral system with only two options. By casting a vote for a “lesser of two evils,” what we’re really doing is voting our own voice away. We’re endorsing a system in which our opinion is not represented.

There is only one way to waste your vote: voting for someone you don’t want to be president. It is simply not true that there are only two options, or three options, or 50,000 options in November. Voting should never give our conscience a regrettable, dirty feeling. When you vote, do it proudly and vote for someone you truly believe in, whether that’s Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein, or someone else. How much more democratic would our country be if everyone voted this way?

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5 comments on “Rethinking ‘wasted votes’ and third-party candidates

  1. Along with Cruz, many voters are wondering if they are morally obliged to vote against both Trump and Clinton.

    Huh? What happened to voting against just HRC? How come he has to include Trump? Does he imagine that Trump is as rabidly pro-abort, as rabidly pro-single-payer health care with its death panels, as big a liar, as deceitful, as vicious, as traitorous, as (fill in the blank) as HRC? Good grief.

  2. I’m still waiting for someone to explain how the electoral college figures into all this as a candidate can garner the popular vote and yet still lose the election due to this set up.

    • Waiting? Just google. If you want to change it, you’ll have to amend the Constitution. There are some other amendments you’ll want to consider first, though.

      The idea was to limit federal power, keeping more power in the states. The chamber belonging to popular vote is the House of Reps. The rest was to be controlled by the states. The problem is that the fed has taken power from the states, especially tax and spend. The money thing is the worst of it. It should be unconstitutional to take money from Peter and give it to Paul. Also, it should be unconstitutional to borrow except by special limited authorization, e.g., for war. On and on.

      • I get all that. I referring to what is the plan to win the electoral college vote. If a third party candidate gets enough votes, they may be able to alter the playing field by making elections a three party race in the future, but Hilary would probably be wreaking havoc in the White House in the meantime. Trump may be able to garner an electoral college vote win, but the powers that be will probably manipulate things so that he still ends up losing, or they make it so he wins but by the tiniest of margins so he can’t effect any real change, or the may stack the system for future elections.
        People are focused on making their votes count, but we need them to count in electoral college votes as well, don’t we?
        If you are in a blue state, will you vote Trump instead of a third party candidate to gain the college votes needed? If you are in a strong red state will you choose to vote third party over Trump?
        It’s just something thrown into the mix of the discussion. Speaking with friends who are from the English political background they find our whole voting system incomprehensible and just plain strange.

  3. There is no Catholic doctrine which requires voting for Hillary. There are a few that apply to voting AGAINST Hillary. Quite obviously her totalitarian abortion on demand policies. It is then a prudential judgment of reason to vote for the candidate with the most likely chance of winning against Hillary. Is someone acting morally when they understand this prudential judgment of reason, that Trump has the most likely chance of defeating Hillary and preventing her policies from reaching the authority of the White House but decides not to vote for Trump for some other issue less grave than abortion? Whether that reason is that they find that the New York businessman is too brash and vulgar, that they preferred the policies of some other candidate like Cruz, or that they disagree with the candidate’s marital history or diction, or that in the world of Platonic Ideals some other perfect candidate who resembles Ronald Reagan would be more desirable – all of those may be valid points of distinction but they evade the abortion issue and the consequences of a Hillary victory for the Supreme Court and the country. The conservative virtue signalling of George Will or Cruz, while perhaps feeling good as rhetorical exercise and political theater, if it leads to Hillary becoming president, would lead to greater evils for the country. All of the conservative criticism of Trump could still be applied AFTER Hillary is defeated and sent back to private life (with greater benefit for the country). The NeverTrump whining does not serve the country or conservatism well if it leads to voters staying home and thereby assisting Hillary to become President of the United States, using the Supreme Court to impose an anti-Christian socialist agenda. The election then is about realistic choices, not ideal ones. Voting your conscience should be voting AGAINST Hillary in the most likely way that she will be defeated. Choosing Trump’s Supreme Court appointments and against Hillary’s is a valid moral decision of prudential judgment in this situation. The voter is not voting to canonize a saint, but to prevent the evil policies of another pro-abortion Clinton regime. The moral decision is to prevent Hillary from getting into the White House. Trump’s handlers and advisors may be able to tame him, but there will be no taming of a President Hillary issuing executive orders on abortion funding.

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