Only one U.S. president has won his election without being aligned with one of the two major political parties. His name was George Washington. All presidents after him, whether they were Federalist, Whig, or, as they’ve been recently, Democrat or Republican aligned themselves with one of these strong ideological groups. Throughout American history, the vast majority of both the electoral and popular vote went to candidates from these parties. This blog post, however, isn’t about them. This is about the other candidates. The third and fourth place finishers. This is about the oft forgotten third party challengers.
If you listen to Democrats and Republicans talk, it’s easy to fall into the trap and think that every member of their parties are a monolith of voters who all think the same about every issue in their respective platforms. It’s easy to assume that all Democrats fiercely defend their positions from completely opposite Republican enemies, but in reality, most of us are somewhere in the middle. We think that a woman’s right to bodily autonomy should be balanced with a fetus’s right to life. We see that the ACA has the potential to provide care to thousands of people that couldn’t access it before, but sets a dangerous precedent for government involvement in the economy. We see that racial prejudice still exists in our society and should be addressed, but we aren’t going to abolish our police departments. These issues are complicated, and it’s easy for voters to fall into a trap where they support all of a party’s viewpoints without question. For the voters who find themselves enthusiastically supporting some of a party’s beliefs while finding others completely abhorrent, 2020’s third parties provide a useful alternative with platforms that are, simultaneously, a hybrid mix of Republican and Democratic ideals and a departure from both altogether.
Libertarians like Jorgensen present this interesting hybrid mixture where they share many of their social views with Democrats and their economic views with Republicans. Above all, the Libertarian Party is all about elevating the importance of individual rights. For supporters of a freer market and a more tolerant social platform, keep your eye on her.
Howie Hawkins is the Green Party’s candidate for the presidency. Hawkins and the Green party pursue a strong, progressive social agenda while also trying to reform environmental policy to more renewable sources with a main goal to completely eliminate carbon emissions by 2030.
Say what you will about whether or not you agree with their policies. However, it’s undeniable that these interests aren’t fully captured by the Democratic or the Republican Parties. A healthy democracy functions best when the interests of its people are represented in government. The two main parties seem to represent the majority of the views that Americans hold, but there exists a substantial minority of Americans whose views aren’t shared in mainstream politics. Third parties are vital to the health of the democracy because diversity of ideas allows political discourse to be vibrant and representative of the will of the people. The struggle between Democrats and Republicans have resulted in the two parties adopting opposite views from each other. They are fiercely opposed and bipartisan compromise seems more and more infrequent. The ideological distance between the parties seems to grow ever larger, but more support for third parties could counteract this change. Third party representatives with moderate ideologies take the space between the two extremes and could foster compromise between them. With polarization getting worse and worse every year, it’s more important than ever that we listen to what these third party candidates have to say and think for ourselves on which candidate truly represents what we think is the right direction for our government.
We have two strong, third party candidates in the running this cycle. If these candidates and their platforms appeal to you more than the others, you should vote for them right? Isn’t that how voting is supposed to work? Well…
Voters want their candidate to win. However, for third party candidates it’s almost impossible for this to happen. Like I said, the only time a candidate won without joining a major party was the only time there was an election without parties. On top of that, you have graphs like this:
Third party candidates are almost guaranteed to lose, but that’s not the worst of it. By voting third party, you’re also giving up the opportunity to vote for your second-choice candidate who might have a higher chance of winning. It’s an easy decision to make if you despise both major party candidates, but for the majority of voters who have second or third choices, voting third party increases the chances that the candidate that you MOST disagree with will end up winning. For many people, a vote for a third party candidate is a vote wasted, and I’m not going to argue that these candidates will have a sudden turnaround and get elected. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t vote for who you most support.
It’s all about sending a message. By voting for who you most support, whether it’s third party or not, you are sending two main messages.
First, you’re sending a message to political parties about the positions you support. It lets third parties know that there’s a reason to keep campaigning. Maybe it won’t lead to a third party president, but it’s certainly happened before for other offices. The biggest effect that it will have, however, is on the two main parties. If Republicans see Libertarian support, they’ll try to incorporate some Libertarian beliefs into their platform to secure votes. The same applies to Democrats and the Green Party. Long term, this will lead to candidates better representing the policy preferences of the wide range of beliefs in the American electorate.
Second, you’re sending a message to voters. No one wants their last choice candidate to win the election, but, for many, they simply vote for the one they hate the least. Voting for a third party candidate informs other voters that an alternative exists to the two main parties that have ruled American politics for as long as can be remembered. The more visible third parties are in mainstream political discourse, the higher the likelihood that people will check out the platforms and may align themselves with a third party.
I’m not saying that everyone should vote third party “just because”. If you truly believe that a major party candidate is best (as the majority probably do), vote for them. All I’m saying is that our votes mean so much more than who we want as our leaders. It lets politicians, the media, and our fellow voters know exactly what values we think should govern our country, and it is ultimately those values that we want represented. Get to know Jo and Howie. And above all, Make your voice heard.