3rd Party Voting: Morality and Pragmatism

Posted: August 8th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Politics & Policy | No Comments »
There are many voices, on both sides, challenging the moral right and pragmatic wisdom of 3rd party voting. These arguments usually boil down to tribalist lesser evilism, the accusation of wasting votes, and SCOTUS appointments. I think these are wrong, and the thinking behind them is inherently harmful.

Don’t Vote For The Wrong Lizard!

I view trying to guilt me into support an organization or person I don’t believe in as tantamount to telling me that moral values, principles, identity, and beliefs don’t matter, that the only thing that matters is tribal affiliation. But I see increased tribalism as the source of our problems, not the solution. It means that candidates don’t matter, virtue and character don’t matter, policy doesn’t matter, civil liberty doesn’t matter, respect for American civics and the Constitution doesn’t matter — the only thing that really matters is in-group affiliation and out-group fear-mongering. When my choices boil down to an authoritarian nationalist or a kleptocrat, arguments over which is the lesser evil mean nothing when both are an existential risk to the principles of liberal democracy. No, thank you.

Don’t Waste Your Vote

Saying that voting third party doesn’t have any effect is wrong. The cutoff for minor party Federal public funding is 5% of the vote in the previous election. For those of us who are looking for long-term change, that does matter — it matters a lot. Strong third party support, both in votes and in finances, has a chance to force realignment of the major party coalitions that have become unsatisfying to nearly everyone. For this post, I will oversimplify the coalitions as roughly this:

R: Nationalists, Evangelicals, Business Republicans

D: Socialists, True Progressives, Third Way Democrats

(For a richer, more data-driven analysis, see this research by Pew.)

The problem is, in my view, that these alliances are over-strained, and no longer serve strong shared common interests. The Business Republicans and Third Way Democrats, for example, share far more in common than either does with the Nationalists or Socialists they are paired with. The only reason they stay together is because of financial incentives. Cutting off the flow of donations into these coalitions and increasing the fiscal viability of a third party may be exactly the strain we need to bring about new coalitions that more accurately reflect common goals.

Additionally, the wasted vote arguments often ignore the effects of the Electoral College. Mathematically, a huge number of votes cast for a presidential candidate are wasted because of “first past the post”. This article gives a good mathematical breakdown.

But SCOTUS appointments!

This is, perhaps, the most pernicious argument: if the wrong tribe of president is elected, the president will appoint wrong tribe SCOTUS justices, who will make decisions favoring wrong tribe.

This argument is particularly poisonous, because it implicitly advocates for more judicial activism. It suggests the purpose of voting is to select the person who will appoint people to serve as lifetime, unaccountable oligarchs who can create laws and rules for our society at their whim. It is, therefore, advocating the dismantling of our Constitutional republic itself. With apologies to Gerald Ford:

A Supreme Court powerful enough to support all of your causes, is powerful enough to strip you of all your rights.

Fortunately for now, the court has shown much greater unity and restraint than it is often given credit for. As the National Review notes here:

These concerns are not misplaced, but the apocalyptic tone misrepresents the Court’s actual, year-by-year activity. Consider: Between January 2012 and June 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against the Obama administration unanimously 13 times — on everything from recess appointments to abortion-clinic “buffer zones.” This was not an anomaly. Since 1995, almost every year has seen more than 40 percent of cases — that is, a plurality — decided unanimously; in 2013, it was two-thirds. (To be fair, there are different degrees of unanimity.) Meanwhile, only twice since 1995 have more than 30 percent of cases split 5-4.This suggests that the Court’s justices are more likeminded legally than political pundits often recognize.

The only wasted vote is for a vote for a candidate you don’t actually support; the only immoral vote is a vote against your own values.

Vote your conscience. Fight for your values.