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One final warning

<ir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-a1ac7776-5457-9566-b296-70b47ba621bf">This article was written before election day.

Let me be blunt: if you are voting for a third-party presidential candidate this election, you are wasting your vote. The reasons for this are manifold.

Most obviously, third-party candidates stand no chance of winning the election. This calls into question your reasons for voting for them. What does that accomplish? If it’s because you want to grow the base of the party, know that parties don’t grow because of presidential campaigns. In 2000, Ralph Nader won almost 3% of the vote. In 1996, Ross Perot won over 8%. Yet the Green Party and Reform Party showed no signs of benefitting after either election. Neither party gained a foothold in Congress or state government, and their party membership remained flat. In fact, all evidence suggests that growth of third parties most effectively occurs when people vote lower on the ticket. That way, the party can build a secure base of support before it seeks higher positions. It is patently unrealistic to believe that a third-party candidate could ever win the presidency without their party already enjoying broad popular support. And that starts not with a presidential protest vote, but with community organizing and campaigning for local officials.

Even more damning than all this, however, is that Nader and Perot stole votes from similar candidates. Instead of creating any sort of change for the better, their presidential campaigns helped elect their respective major-party ideological opposites, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. So if you’re voting for a third-party candidate, you’re actually helping to elect the candidate who is least like yours, by directing a vote that could help a better (but not perfect) candidate actually win. And why would you want to give your vote to a perfect but impossible solution when you can support an imperfect but possible solution? The world isn’t black and white. It’s not all or nothing. If you’re going to vote, you should at least make sure your vote is helping someone win, or else why even vote in the first place? To make a statement? As you can see, your “statement” won’t have any lasting effects unless you put actions behind it. (And you totally should vote. Not voting is even worse than voting to make a statement. The only statement it makes is that you’re apathetic and claim no vested interest in your country.)

In a more typical election year, I might be more willing to forgive a third-party vote, at least in noncompetitive states. But this year, the stakes are higher than in any election in memory. By mid-January, our president will either be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Period. There is no “long game” of third-party base growing at play. If you are not voting for Trump or Clinton, you are implying that Trump and Clinton are equally bad, and that fruitless support of a third-party nobody with little to no qualifications is the most productive use of your one vote. That’s a dangerously nihilistic conclusion to reach. It’s also logically highly unlikely. Chances are, one of the two is better in your mind than the other. So why not help the better of two possible actions occur? Many Americans don’t even have the luxury of choice. Donald Trump has consistently shown disrespect for women, racial minorities, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, Muslims, Jews, and immigrants. To vote for him would be, to them, flagrantly self-destructive. Anybody who doesn’t vote for the only candidate who has a chance of beating Trump must therefore be so privileged or so entirely blind to the plight of millions of other Americans that they feel it is better to vote for no viable candidate than one who is at least slightly better. It must be nice to live in a fantastical world like that. But for the rest of us, who don’t have the luxury of fitting into the very narrow view of America that Trump describes, it’s clear that the only candidate who has a chance of beating Trump is Hillary Clinton. If you don’t vote for her, you aren’t helping to grow a third party. You aren’t helping to elect a different candidate. The biggest effect you’re having is showing that your admittedly impossible principles are more valuable to you than the welfare of millions of already-marginalized American citizens. Keep that in mind when you go to the polls.

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