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Voters Say They Want a Third Party. They Should Vote Accordingly.

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According to an October Rasmussen poll, 38% of likely voters say they intend to vote for "someone other than President Trump or the Democratic presidential nominee" in the 2020 US presidential election.

In a three-way presidential race, 38% constitutes a winning plurality, assuming it's distributed among the states such that the Electoral College outcome reflects it.

As a long-time activist in America's largest "third" political party, the Libertarian Party, I'm prone to find that number encouraging.

On the other hand, I've seen numbers like this before and I've watched them not pan out on election day. Here's why:

Pluralities or majorities of independent, "swing," and even Democratic and Republican voters always respond positively to polls asking them, generically, about the desirability of a "third party" in American politics.

But generically and specifically are two different animals.

America already has numerous "third parties." In addition to the Libertarians, we have the Greens, the Constitution Party, and a wide assortment of ideological parties across the spectrum from openly socialist to openly fascist. Even the Prohibition Party, founded in 1869, still nominates a presidential slate every four years.

But most voters who perennially say they don't want a Democrat or Republican for president next time don't agree on a specific alternative. They either vote for the Democrat or Republican for president, or just stay home, when election day rolls around.

Even in 2016, when the "major" parties each chose widely disliked and distrusted presidential candidates, only about 5% of those who voted strayed outside the major party fold.

Why don't third party candidates do well, especially at the presidential level? A number of factors play into the poor results.

One is that third party candidates, already far out-spent by the Democrats and Republicans, have to spend lots of the money they raise just getting on ballots. Their actual campaign budgets amount to rounding errors compared to those of their major party opponents. Even those who might prefer a mouse to a whirlwind have trouble hearing the offerings of the former over the din of the latter.

Another is a "fear factor," naturally occurring but energetically encouraged and cultivated by the big players. Don't "spoil" the election. Vote against the major party candidate you fear most, rather than for the minor party candidate you like best. Your only "real" alternative is "the lesser evil."

A third problem is bad voting systems. Ranked choice voting would allow those fearful voters to choose the candidates they prefer while remaining confident that if their first choices failed, their second choices wouldn't be eliminated.

Next year, voters will be told by the major parties that they must choose either four more years of the banana republicanism they chose in 2016, or a buffet of microwaved and re-heated 50- and 80-year old New Deal and Great Society programs doused with supposedly "progressive" sriracha.

That won't be the case. Third party options will likely be on offer in all 50 states. The 38% of voters who claim to want one should actually choose one instead of finding reasons not to.

 

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Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


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9 people are discussing this page, with 15 comments


Dennis Kaiser

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While I couldn't agree with you more on this, having voted "third party" twice against Clinton and once against Trump/Clinton, the problem is the "system" needs to be demolished, but those who vote on doing that are the ones the present system has put in those positions.

The present system automatically silences any candidate not represented by either the Republicans or the Democrats and the debate process excludes anyone not affiliating with one of those, hence third-party candidates cannot get "noticed" by the general public. It has been learned that letting a third party candidate gain popularity could be costly to the system, remember Jesse Ventura and Ross Perot who gained 20% of the vote in spite of the negative media coverage. Then there is the propaganda machine known as the MSM which brainwashes the public that a vote for any candidate not represented by either of the two main parties is a wasted vote. After the election is over one must still live with his/her conscience and I feel good about taking part in our democratic process and also feel good for the fact I did not vote for a "lesser of evils, which is still evil".

We need to have at least a single debate of candidates from the major parties. The media ought to make money on it and the people would at least be made aware of others besides the lesser of evils.

That said, my advice to Thomas Knapp is to watch your back as Hillary will make you a target as a Russian agent for attempting to disrupt the 2020 election process by highlighting third parties.

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019 at 10:42:52 AM

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Thomas Knapp

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I doubt Hillary Clinton will ever notice me, and if she does she'll see that I've been critical of her for a lot more than her whining that third parties are Russian conspiracies :D

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019 at 11:51:08 AM

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Michael Dewey

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Main reason lost respect for Sanders was him not even considering the offer of Jill Stein to head the Green Party ticket. From what can recall the Green Party had a real good platform and could have used the attention.


Putin was probably right that if it was Clinton it would have meant war.


My main hope is the long wanted bomb, bomb Iran war does not come around in 2020. Honestly don't think Trump wants it, but not sure since Pompeo is still there.

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019 at 3:38:28 PM

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Dennis Kaiser

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Reply to Michael Dewey:   New Content

It would have been interesting for sure. At least we may not have had to go through the Russiagate thing. Hillary would have still lost but could have blamed the "deplorables" who voted for Bernie instead of her. The question would be how many Trump voters were actually anti-Hillary and not so much for Trump? Also, how many who didn't vote would have voted?

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019 at 4:01:04 PM

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Philip Pease

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Another factor that works against 3rd parties is the main stream media; they choose to report on only R's and D's.


As an example, my local CBS affiliate ran a piece on how much money the candidates for governor raised. Their graphic and report only gave the $s raised by the Republican and Democrat's candidates; there were actually 6 candidates on the ballot. The main stream media does not even acknowledge 3rd parties exist.


America is an oligarchy and it is the oligarchs who own and operate the main stream media and the two main stream political parties.

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019 at 2:56:47 PM

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Lois Gagnon

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Hear hear! I will never vote for either war party ever again. That to me is a wasted vote and the two corrupt parties are the real spoilers considering they don't represent the public's expressed interests according to the Princeton study that was published. We just collected way more signatures than needed in Massachusetts to get Ranked Choice Voting on the ballot in 2020. It is not a partisan issue as you a Libertarian and I a Green prove. Even before we all get RCV, if every registered voter stopped being fear mongered into propping up the corrupt system and voted for who they really want, we wouldn't' wind up with the pathetic parade of elite controlled puppets we have now.

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019 at 3:58:54 PM

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Lois Gagnon

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Why is it that I can't create paragraphs on this site when using the IPad?

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019 at 4:00:09 PM

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Jill Herendeen

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Prove that voters have NOT been voting for third parties. (Of course, you can't, because our vote-count is almost completely unverifiable. We COULD prove how the voters vote, IF the voters were allowed to count the ballots themselves, as many times as it takes to reach concensus, but in most of the country that is currently either impossible or illegal. Almost as if Those In Charge have something to hide...)

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019 at 6:01:26 AM

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Lois Gagnon

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I truly think Jill Stein got the 5% of the vote needed to give the Greens ballot access in all 50 states. A lot of pissed off Berners voted for her.

The Democrats are desperate to keep the Green party off the ballot. They construct all kinds of obstacles to prevent us from achieving that 5% and the press helps them by not inviting third party candidates to debates. We had that happen in Massachusetts in 2018 when a Boston station didn't invite our candidate for Treasurer to a debate with the 2 mainstream party candidates. This should be illegal.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019 at 7:33:11 PM

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Thomas Knapp

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Stein got a little over 1% nationwide.


There is no "ballot access in 50 states if you get 5%" thing. Each state makes its own ballot access rules.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019 at 9:07:17 PM

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A valid point. But let's pretend that the system works. tehe

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019 at 8:39:04 PM

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I only voted for one Democrat in my life, Jimmy Carter in 1980, the rest have been green or Libertarian candidates. My conscience would Never allow me to vote Republican, though my tax bracket would favor it.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019 at 4:24:31 PM

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Thomas Knapp

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I voted Democratic in my first presidential election (1988 -- Dukakis). Haven't voted major party since.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019 at 9:08:19 PM

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Randy Moor

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Very good article and analysis.

IMO the most significant problem is that even the people who do take the time to vote, and acknowledge that they actually prefer third party candidates, end up voting for the "lesser evil" even in non-swing states where doing so not only makes no sense but is counterproductive against their own professed interests. Only about 20% of the states are swing states so in the other 80% of states by the definition of "swing states" those who vote for the lesser evil will not affect the outcome in their state. Instead of blocking the greater evil such voters actually give all observers the false impression that they support the lesser evil and this inflates the lesser evil's apparent popularity.

People who vote in non-swing states need to stop this counterproductive use of the "lesser evil" voting tactic. I really wish people would spread this meme.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019 at 7:21:45 PM

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Mark Skudlarek

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No Joke!! I scratch my head whenever I hear the Need a 3rd Party cry. Also get confused when I hear it said that a vote for, for instance, the Green Party candidate is a wasted vote. Voting Demublican is a complete waste of time. Things Democrat and things Republican aren't getting better. If I'm going to vote at all it will be for the Candidate and the Party whose platform is one I whole-heartedly support. Furthermore, I will look beyond the published platform of that Party, and ask myself "What has that party done lately?" I don't vote to pick a "winner." U.S. government is full of them.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019 at 8:30:06 PM

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