Protest Votes02 Nov 2016
As Election Day draws near I’ve noticed a stark difference between this election and those of years past. During the Republican primaries support for Trump among conservatives swirled in the 10-15% range. After he won he managed to secure the votes of many in the remaining 85%. That’s a fairly remarkable feat considering that the Republican party, who have long since proclaimed themselves the party of the family, selected a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, ignoramus as their candidate for president.
The liberal progressive reaction after Bernie Sanders dropped out of the Democratic primary race has seemed to be the opposite. The media describe this lack of support among younger voters as an “enthusiam gap” or “millenial cynicism” of the political system and Hillary Clinton. It’s not hard to imagine that people who came into adulthood during the great recession would be less than thrilled at the prospect of a president who’s been bankrolled by Wall Street and who supported the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
One interesting commonality of those who feel betrayed by their preferred political party has been their preference of casting a protest vote for a third party. This isn’t by any means a new phonomenon but I thought it might be best to shed some light on why I think that protest votes are not only a distraction but extremely dangerous.
In the US presidential elections we use a first pass the post plural voting system. That is, one vote per voter for a single candidate. After all votes are cast the majority usually wins. A side effect of this type of plural voting system is Duverger’s Law, which states that these types of plural voting systems favor a two party political system. We’ve seen this in effect for quite a long time. You have to go back all the way to 1865, when Andrew Johnson won the presidency as a National Union party member, to find a president that wasn’t either a Republican or Democrat. The conclusion we can draw here is that the next president of the United States will be Republican or Democrat.
Lesser of Two Evils
Even if you don’t want either of the major party candidates to win you must think that one is worse that the other.
Because either a Republican or Democrat will win, by voting for a third party candidate instead of voting against the worst major party candidate, you are making it more likely that least desireable of the realistically electable candidates will win. A vote for a third party does nothing but increase the the likelyhood of the worst possible outcome.
While our existing plural voting system will always favor two parties there could be some light at the end of the tunnel. Ranked-Choice voting is a voting system that allows you to rank your choice of candidates from most preferred to least preferred. Votes are tallied in a way that effectively lets you vote for your third party candidate while ensuring that the worst possible outcome is not a threat. Some cities and states have adopted this style of voting already.
The only way out of our existing system is to change it. That’ll require a constitutional amendment. Rather than focusing on casting a protest vote, vote for the lesser of two evils and spend your time trying to elect local congressional leaders that favor preferential voting.