Why I may ‘throw away my vote’

We’ve all heard why it’s a bad idea to vote for a third party candidate.  The smart guys on the radio tell me that it’s…

…like throwing away your vote because you vote for someone who doesn’t have a chance to win and take away a vote from the party that you agree with more, thereby increasing the chances of putting the other party in power.

But, I believe it was in Peter Robinson’s book It’s My Party: A Republican’s Messy Love Affair with the GOP, where I found a good counterpoint to this argument.

It’s been awhile since I read it, but if I recall correctly, Robinson pointed out that Perot’s fiscal responsibility message in the 1992 Presidential election earned him 19% of the vote.

That got the attention of the other two parties.  They adopted the fiscal responsibility platform to attract those votes.  Republicans adopted some of Perot’s platform as their own in 1994 to retake control of Congress and even Bill Clinton adopted a more conservative fiscal stance to get re-elected in 1996.

It worked.  Most of the 19% of the people who voted for Perot in 1992 threw back in with one of the major parties in the next Presidential election.

I think Robinson even suggested that’s why we have two dominant political parties in the U.S.  When a third-party or fringe party makes headway and attracts votes, the other two parties respond and try to adopt that stance in some form or fashion.

This makes sense.  This is normal feedbacks at work.  If a new soda pop took enough business away from Coke and Pepsi, Coke and Pepsi would respond with a similar product or buy that new soda company outright.

This is also a good explanation as to why political parties (and businesses) evolve over time.  Democrat Kennedy cut taxes?  Republican Nixon imposed wage and price controls?

So, despite what the guys on the radio say, all those people who threw their votes away on a third-party candidate really made a difference.  It just took a little longer to make that difference.

They sent a message to Democrats and Republicans that fiscal responsibility was important enough to get their votes.  The feedback loop worked because both parties responded.

Let’s say I agree with 20% of the policies of one major party candidate and 65% of the policies of the other.

If there’s a third party candidate that I’m in 85% agreement with, but he has zero chance of winning, the guys on the radio would tell me to vote for the 65% candidate in order to improve my chances of not winding up with the 20% candidate in power.

But, I think I’m done with that.

Voting for the the 85% candidate is my best chance of moving both parties closer to what I want. Over time, if we all do this, perhaps we start moving all the candidate positions closer to our goals.

Instead of choosing between 20% and 65% shoe-ins and the 85% odd-duck (the percentages representing how much I agree with them on), I might get to choose between 48% and 74% candidates, which are both better options for me than the 20% and 65% guys or gals.

Maybe the political calculation of the guys on the radio is why we seem to have politicians that are out of touch with the American people.

Instead of voting for what we really want and moving those agreement percentages closer to what we want, we vote for the lesser of two evils but end up moving those agreement percentages away from our ideal over successive elections.

Think about it.  If you’re going to vote for the lesser of two evils anyway, what incentive does your less evil candidate (or future less evil candidates) have to give serious consideration to what he disagrees with you about?

Maybe in one election you begrudgingly vote for the 70% candidate over the 45% candidate.  The next politician thinks you’ll vote for him if he only gives you 65% of what you want — as long as it’s higher than the other candidate.  He moved down to 65% because he can pick up a few votes in another group, without risking losing your vote.  After all, you wouldn’t want to take the chance of his opponent being in power, would you?

At the same time, the next candidate for the other major party moves from 45% agreement to 40% agreement.

Until someone can give me a convincing argument otherwise, I say vote for the candidate you agree with most whether that candidate has a chance or not. It might be painful, but enough people do it, it will send a clearer message of what’s important to you.

9 thoughts on “Why I may ‘throw away my vote’

  1. Pingback: Votes for Lesser Evils are the Only Wasted Votes – It’s Time We Had Higher Standards - Rise of the Center | Rise of the Center

  2. Pingback: Why I may throw my vote away: Part II | Our Dinner Table

  3. Some comments I posted to my blog:

    I think this method of a feedback loop is hundreds of times faster and more effective than the idea that we can slowly change a party from the inside by electing candidates and persuading them to follow our wishes. 
    Once a politician is elected it is actually pretty difficult to lose a seat in congress. Unless there are extenuating circumstances such as national focus on a local race, most politicians just need to focus on not screwing up too publicly, and make sure they bring home the pork. Once elected, they’re almost being paid to run their campaign. Setting aside principles for the sake if expediency is a major reason politics has evolved into the freak show that it has become. 
    The idea of grain being separated from the chaff once a politician is in office is in reality the reverse of what most idealistic voters want to believe. It’s why we’ve devolved away from principles to expediency. When we vote for what’s expedient, our elected officials are getting signals that they should do the same. Hence compromises happen that have turned our political process into a tit-for-tat game between lawmakers (fundraisers) and financiers and among the lawmakers themselves. 
    Our feedback loops have become broken because of mongering by pundits/politicians on all sides. It’s up to us to fix it. Vote for a candidate and not an institution. 


  4. Pingback: Two parties | Our Dinner Table

  5. Pingback: Penn Jillette says it well | Our Dinner Table

  6. Pingback: We do judge books by their covers | Our Dinner Table

  7. Pingback: This is what we get when you don’t vote for third parties | Our Dinner Table


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