It’s no secret that even President Obama’s most ardent supporters have been disappointed in him—some to the extent that they won’t be voting for him at all. And on the other side of the aisle, conservatives have never truly felt like Mitt Romney was ever “their guy.” And it’s quite obvious that the public sentiment is not at all about supporting a particular candidate, but voting against the other guy.
Once again, we find ourselves in an election where the majority of the electorate is pulling the lever for “Lesser Evil.” And just like all prior elections, when you vote for the lesser evil, evil will continue to win.
Voting for the lesser evil is still voting for evil
I’m not the only one to suggest that voting for the lesser evil is, itself, evil. But the alternative can be very dissatisfying. As a practical matter, only two party nominees have a realistic chance at winning, so voting for someone else, anyone else, means fighting the feeling that you’re throwing your vote away. Partisans argue that it’s futile to vote third party or independent because those candidate don’t have any chance at winning. By voting for someone who’s got no chance, the argument goes, you’re throwing your vote away.
Ilya Somin briefly makes the case against “expressive voting” and in favor of voting for the lesser evil:
Libertarians who want to express their views can find much better ways to do so than casting a ballot behind closed doors that no one will see and few will know about…. If we choose to vote, however, I think we should vote for the least bad of the candidates that have a realistic chance of winning. The chance that your vote will be decisive is extremely low, but still just barely high enough justify taking the responsibility seriously.
The “deciding vote” argument is simply another way of saying that a vote for anyone other than one of the front-runners is a wasted vote.
A vote for not-evil is not a vote for evil
Another argument in favor of the lesser-evil vote made the rounds during Ralph Nader’s run, when Democrat partisans warned voters, “A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.” This is the argument commonly advanced by those concerned about the immediate, short-term effect of putting the Other Guy in power for the next term. And oddly enough, it seems like very election cycle features the Most Important Election in Our Lifetime—the one where, if the Other Guy wins, all civilization is imperiled.
Vote the bums out
Another argument favoring the lesser evil voting strategy is to fire incumbents. Those in office have a tremendous advantage over their challengers, due to higher name recognition, easier access to campaign cash, using their powers to benefit certain voting constituencies, and simply having their position be their full-time job. In Congress, incumbent re-election rates can be as high as 98%. It’s awfully compelling, then, to vote for the next-most-likely alternative just to express anti-incumbent sentiment of whatever kind. Clint Eastwood suggested this at the GOP Convention: “When somebody doesn’t do the job, you gotta let ‘em go.”
Voting just encourages them.
No matter what the reason you choose, voting for the lesser evil perpetuates evil, and has gotten us to the current place where, at least anecdotally, great chunks of the electorate vote against one candidate rather than voting for someone they can, in good conscience, support. That’s because the act of voting is stated as an affirmative act—you punch the chad of the candidates you reject—you only select the one you hope will take the office. Your vote is not rejection of one candidate, but an endorsement of the other. In the words of P.J. O’Rourke, “Voting just encourages them.”
And quite literally, it does. No matter who sits in the White House next January 21, they will view their victory not so much a rejection of the losing candidate, but as an affirmation. And all their policies—good, bad, and neutral—are a package deal that you’ve signed to accept.
That’s why voting for the lesser evil is still voting for evil.
So how should you vote?
Because the act of voting implies your endorsement, you should vote for the candidate you can, in good faith, endorse. Sometimes that’s the big-ticket party candidate. More often, you’ll find yourself voting Green, or Libertarian, or Reform, or Constitution. Maybe you can’t support anyone on that list and would have to resort to a write-in vote, perhaps for someone who’s not even running. (I’ve done this in the past.) Now, by voting in favor of someone you can actually support, you can have pride in your vote and be secure that you voted in accordance with your principles.
But wait—what’s that? A write-in has no chance of winning. A third-party candidate has no chance of winning. Voting for them is just throwing your vote away.
Well, maybe. It’s true that third-party candidates are unlikely to win a national election, as are write-ins. But as an individual, the odds of your single vote changing the election results on a national scale are substantially less than your chances of getting attacked by a shark at the polling place, while a lighting strike knocks the winning lottery ticket out of your hand. Even if you live in the state that decides the election—like Florida did in 2000—and your state is close, you know that a single-vote victory for either candidate is vanishingly small. If it did come to that, then you can certainly say that your vote mattered, and that the candidate who lost did so because they failed to make a persuasive case for your support.
You think your vote might change the outcome.
But it won’t. Really. And because of that, you will have wasted your vote by casting it for someone you don’t really support, instead of casting it for someone who did—all because you wanted a chance to vote for someone you thought might win, instead of someone you really supported.
But in most years, that’s not an option either. In this race, a supposedly close horse-race, poll analyst Nate Silver predicts Mitt’s Romney’s chances of winning are less than 20%:
Less than 20%. So if you want to vote for someone who’s likely to win, you’ve got only one choice: Barack Obama. And what kind of choice is that?
Ultimately, the argument that you’re wasting your vote if you vote for anyone but a Republican or a Democrat supports only Republicans and Democrats—and you’ll notice they’re the ones who most commonly make that argument. It’s really code for “Vote D or R, because no one else has a chance…” and no one else has a chance only so long as everyone believes no one else has a chance.
By eliminating your alternatives, the big-party duopoly has reduced pressure on themselves to produce genuinely acceptable candidates. Instead of advancing ideas about why their choice should win, they can make elections about why the other guy shouldn’t. The “wasted vote” theory does nothing but entrench those two parties, and perpetuate the cycle of lesser evil because your only other choice is to stay home.
Voting third-party does more than just make you feel good
Well, great… you might think. Voting third-party makes your conscience feel good, but what good does it really do in the end? Why vote for a write-in rather than just stay home or use that time volunteering at a soup kitchen?
Because it’s the only way that you as a citizen have to make your officials accountable to your will as a citizen. You can write them letters, or donate to candidates or causes, or march in protest, but the only legal way you have to command your government to act in the way you see fit is to vote for the person who’s going to carry out your wishes.Politicians seek money, it’s true, and they might read your letters or sympathize with your protests—but without votes, they have no power to wield. This is the iron law of the ballot box—only the winner gets to rule.
Political parties and campaigns answer to a Darwinist system—get more votes than the other guy, or go home. And the losing party always has an incentive to woo those who were engaged enough to vote, but for whatever reason rejected their candidate the last time around. If the vote is close enough—as it was in 2000—for one or more third parties to make the difference, then the loser needs to find a way to win those voters over. But voting for something, instead of just against something, makes you worth persuading. It makes you worth seeking out.
It makes you an agent of change.
Break the cycle in 2012. Don’t vote for evil.