Although I’m an English major, I often discuss politics with friends of all stripes: liberals, progressives, conservatives, traditionalists, etc. They’re generally skeptical about the next election. Hillary Clinton is old-hat, championed by many simply for being a woman with a chance at the presidency. Others blame her for Benghazi.
On the Republican side, many of my conservative friends feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Half of the party offers Ted Cruz, the other a third Bush. Even for my idealistic generation, there’s a malaise of fatigue. Quite a few of us have started asking: why not vote for a third party? And while the presidential election is still quite far off, this option sounds tantalizing.
If you vote for a candidate, you hold him or her accountable for actions taken in office (hence the jeers of “Thanks, Obama” and “Don’t ask me. I didn’t vote for this”). As a culture, we recognize that democracy means responsibility for our votes. Democrats defend Democratic presidents; Republicans defend their own, because if a Republican fails, it’s the “fault” of every Republican voter. If Obama fails, it’s the fault of all who believed in him, at least in some basic sense.
We know that the two-party system has its flaws. More than once, I’ve heard wishes for a more European-style of government here in the United States. And even among my less Europhilic friends, I’ve heard complaints about the establishment, regardless of party. Both sides are subject to powerful lobbies; both sides stifle any and all dissent; both sides select pre-packaged partisans as candidates, or so the rhetoric goes.
On the practical level, it’s a dilemma. One side is marginally “less evil” than the other, and so they receive my vote. If I’m pro-life, I overlook Republican views on X and Y and fight to send them to the White House, and vice versa. Most Americans are swing voters. We don’t entirely agree with one party or another; we accept certain differences in favor of a greater good.
But if most of our choices are ill-fitted, and we are culpable for the decisions of those we for whom we vote, then we find ourselves in a compromising situation. The only real alternative is to vote for a third party. Third parties rarely have a chance of winning national elections, but they can succeed locally. Further, they are more likely to align with our principles, if only because there are so many from which to choose. For the fervent environmentalist, maybe the Greens are best. For the socially-conservative American who thinks government intervention has some place in the economy, the American Solidarity Party might fit. For the ultimate de-regulator, the Libertarian Party is a better home than the contemporary Republican Party. Voting for a third party allows you to avoid culpability for electing disasters from a largely broken system while supporting more holistically-oriented politicians.
And, while these parties are unlikely to win, if enough people vote third party, maybe the establishment will get the message. We’ve seen these shifts before: Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, Ross Perot in 1992, and even Gary Johnson in 2012. Dissatisfaction can result in the emergence of powerful third parties, or even lead to shifts in major party policy (i.e. the increasing libertarianism of today’s Republicans). Regardless, voting third party means preserving a sense of personal honor; it means refusing to be complicit in a difficult and irksome system.
That’s a strong enough case for me to consider it, and I hope it’s enough for you too.