With two deeply unpopular main party nominees, many have expressed at least some passing consideration for a third party or independent candidate.
To illustrate the point, only half of Protestant pastors say they plan to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
But if you’ve seen this option discussed online, you’ve probably encountered supporters of either of the two main candidates assert that voting for a third party candidate is a waste. I don’t think that is the case.
I’m not arguing whether or not you should vote for a third party. That is a decision each voter has to make on their own. I simply want to address common objections.
Voting third party is really voting for _____.
Clinton supporters attempt to argue, “If you vote third party, you are actually voting for Donald Trump.” That sounds compelling enough on the surface.
Currently, our nation exists as a two-party system. That has also been the case for much of our history. Two major parties carry most of the political power. So if you aren’t voting for Clinton, you could be helping Trump.
Here’s the problem with that logic, however—it cut both ways and undermines the force of the argument.
If it is the case that if I’m not voting for Clinton, I’m really voting for Trump and if I’m not voting for Trump, I’m really voting for Clinton, then I’m actually voting for both and cancelling out my vote. That seems illogical on the surface.
But, you may say, you have historically been a Republican voter and now in this election, you are taking away what has been a reliable GOP vote and placing that elsewhere. Doesn’t that mean your vote helps the Democratic candidate?
In a way, yes, but that assumes that in each election, the Republican party is, in some way, owed my vote. That reasoning makes the assumption that my past voting pattern means I should always continue voting that way.
But what if the parties change their platform? In some shocking turn of events, the Democrats decide to abandon their support of abortion and become defenders of religious liberty, while the Republicans embrace larger government and increased taxes.
Do I still owe my vote to the party I’ve most frequently voted for despite the fact that they now embrace the opposite viewpoints? I would hope the answer is no.
In that scenario, it should be clear my loyalty is not to a party and their chosen candidate, but to a set of principles that line up with my own. I should be free to abandon one party and go to the other (or vote for a different party all together that more closely aligns with my beliefs).
They don’t have a chance to win, so why bother?
Our president, outside of some ridiculous, unprecedented situation, will most likely be either Clinton or Trump. Most third party supporters would not argue otherwise.
So if you know a candidate has virtually no chance to win, why would you vote for that person? It depends on your motivations for voting.
If you see your vote only as an attempt to directly influence the outcome of the present election, then voting one of the two major parties is probably your only option.
However, if you see voting third party as a way to express your dissatisfaction with the two major candidates, that would be a justification. Parties cannot see your emotions, regrets and conflicts when you vote. They only see your vote.
Perhaps you believe both candidates to be abhorrent, but you think Trump is marginally better than Clinton. In any other scenario, you would never vote for Trump. But you are going to hold your nose and vote for him.
Guess what the Republican party sees? A vote for Trump. Your vote looks exactly the same as the vote of someone who loves all the things about Trump that you dislike and worked to get past.
The only way to tangibly and effectively demonstrate your dislike for both of the two major party candidates is to vote for a third party candidate.
Some third party voters aren’t trying to leave their political party. They’re trying to make it better. That voter views a third party vote as a way to influence their traditional party.
Say you are a Bernie Sanders supporter and believe he is the future of the Democratic party, not Clinton. One way to work toward that change is by writing in Sanders or voting for another candidate you believe more closely aligns with your values.
The hope is that enough others disapprove of the party’s candidate and vote differently. The goal would be to force party officials to respect you and your opinions in the next election and work to nominate a candidate more to your liking.
But, you may say, these two candidates are the only real options we have. The work of influencing the party and the primary voters happens between the elections.
You and I may want different candidates, but these are who we have so you have to choose one of the two that can win.
In this argument, a candidate has to meet some threshold of likelihood of winning before voters should consider them a legitimate option. As that is almost always one of the two major party nominees, don’t waste your vote on a third party person.
But then that raises some interesting questions. How would you advise Christian citizens living in a totalitarian regimes that have sham elections?
Before the War in Iraq toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, the nation had elections, but they were merely for show. Everyone knew exactly how that would turn out. Russia does much of the same thing today.
If you were a citizen living in Iraq during the time of Hussein, would you have had a moral duty to vote for him because he was the only one who had a chance at winning? After all, it would be throwing away your vote (possibly your life) to vote for anyone else.
How about a less extreme example here in the United States? Say you live in a solidly blue state like Massachusetts. A Republican presidential candidate has no real chance to win there.
Or what about Wyoming? No Democrat is going to turn that red state blue any time soon.
If you are a Republican living in Massachusetts or a Democrat living in Wyoming, shouldn’t you simply vote for the candidate who has the only real chance to win your state?
In those cases, you aren’t voting for a person with a chance of winning, you are voting for a candidate who has a slim chance of victory but who more lines up with your principles.
And, regardless of the arguments against voting outside of the two-party system, that is ultimately what every election comes down to for the individual voter—voting according to your principles and convictions.
We cannot vote for “Not Clinton” or “Not Trump.” Those are not on the ballot. You have to choose a candidate for which you can vote and acknowledge and accept all their faults.
For many, neither of the two major candidates can be that person. In that case, they have the legitimate option to vote for someone else who better fits them.
Voting for a third party is not throwing away your vote. It is purposely deciding that neither of the two major party candidates has earned your vote, but a non-traditional candidate has.