No Confidence: Thoughts on Election 2012

I’ve seen several Obama endorsements over the past few days, all of them acknowledging that Obama is flawed, but then making mostly negative cases.  They endorse Obama despite himself because of how much they despise the policies, campaign, and ignorance of the Romney campaign.

JT has the most detailed explanation of why you should vote Obama, Jen McCreight (who I love) has a short and not totally reasonable post against third-party votes, PZ has a detailed argument against third parties, and Andrew Tripp has an argument that we need more George McGoverns and fewer Obamas.

On the issues, I’m actually fairly close to Obama on most fronts.  He’s center-right, I’m left-center — I usually score a bit closer to Jill Stein though she and I have differences — but as candidates who represent your point-of-view, I don’t have any major problems with Obama that are also things I think he can realistically do anything about.  Yes, he is authoritarian in some of his presidential powers, but it is going to take someone truly extraordinary in the job of the presidency to reduce the amount of power of the job — or a strong Congress willing to take responsibility for their actions.  (I highly recommend Drift by Rachel Maddow if you’re interested in this topic).

So, if you love Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson or even, FSM forbid, Gary Johnson or Virgil Goode, what should you do?  According to my internet friends, vote for Obama.


I’m not saying that we’re doomed, though, just that the presidential race is the wrong place to effect change.

He’s not totally wrong, but the fact of the matter is that the Green Party is putting up a lot of candidates across the country in many different levels of government.  Having a loss-leader green party candidate to get more attention for local races, and to try to get more matching funds for the party as a whole, makes a lot of sense.  Even I, denizen of a red district in a red state, have the opportunity to throw my vote away to a Green Party candidate other than Jill Stein.


If you’re voting third-party, you’re voting for Romney. Stop being an idealist and wake up to the reality of how our system works. I agree we need to have more parties in the dialog – trust me, I’d be way happier voting for someone more liberal like Jill Stein if I had the knowledge my voice would be heard – but that’s not going to happen by throwing your vote away and helping a Republican win.

This needs a huge caveat that this is only true if you live in a state where there’s any question of who is going to win the election.  The reality is that less than 20% of the American population lives somewhere where their vote has the potential to matter in the overall election.  It’s not me in South Carolina, it’s not Jen in Seattle, it’s not PZ in Minnesota, but it is JT in Ohio.  A vote for a third-party isn’t a vote for Romney unless you live in Ohio, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, or Virginia.

I agree with JT’s conclusion:

Here’s what I suggest.  If you live in a state that is already decided (California, Texas, etc.), vote third-party.  Why?  Because in 1992 Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote as a third-party candidate, and that was not meaningless.  If forced the two dominant parties to realize that the people were pissed off.  That led to bi-partisan efforts that undoubtedly contributed to Bill Clinton’s success.  Even if it’s unrealistic to expect a third-party candidate to win, at least for the time being, I believe sending that message is still important.  Is it a perfect fix?  No, but it’s something to do in the meantime that doesn’t carry the risk of pissed away votes in swing states opening the door for the lesser of the two candidates with a legitimate shot at winning this year.

Now, let’s look at my ballot in South Carolina, so that I can show you why I am really not upset with people who don’t bother to go to the polls on election day.  So, you’re in the 80% of the country that doesn’t matter at all presidentially, surely you matter locally, right?  Not necessarily.  A third of the races in SC are people running unopposed.  Not only is this true for school boards or council seats, it’s true of the state house and senate.  It’s also true of one of our national house races.

The other day I was listening to NPR and a Californian called in to complain that, thanks to a new combined primary format, several places in CA had people of the same party running against each other in the general election, and he was very upset.  I wanted to call and scream because I am going to be given a ballot that says this:

House Representative District 02
Joe Wilson (REP)

The fact that I am de facto supporting Joe “You Lie” Wilson alone makes me not want to show up at the polling place.  Knowing that every single race where I do have a choice is going to go to the Republican doesn’t make me any more eager to waste the hour or so of my time it will take me to go to the polling place.  Of the 12 races I am voting on, 7 are people running unopposed.  The rest are polling strongly against my choices.  I can’t even write-in the presidential race for the amazing Rocky Anderson.

Geography has determined that I will never cast a vote for a winner.  A meaningless protest vote is literally all I have.  So here’s my recommendation: vote, but vote for whoever makes you feel good about voting in the first place.  Because the real work is everything we do to get the right people on the ballots in the first place and trying to convince those already in power to do the right thing.

Unless you live in Ohio.

No Confidence: Thoughts on Election 2012

15 thoughts on “No Confidence: Thoughts on Election 2012

  1. 1

    My argument against third party votes, and for voting for Obama in this election even if you don’t like him too much has two parts.

    Part 1: Romney.

    Part 2: Where were you (not YOU specifically, Ashley, but anybody) during the pre-primary process? What candidate did you donate time and money to support who was running for a nomination that you liked? If there wren’t any what did you do to prod someone to run? Not necessarily for president, but for state rep, state senator, US congress, etc?

    Real choice comes early in the election process if it ever comes at all. But it is fleeting. Grab the opportunity while you can, and you have the chance of making an incremental difference. Then, later, your pragmatic vote, which you really do need to make to not have, say, Romney like blood on your hands, will be easier.

    1. 1.1

      That argument only holds water if a vote for Obama could make a difference in your state, which is just not true for most people.

      In terms of where I am, there just aren’t people willing to run or fund runs because gerrymandering has made so many elections absolutely impossible.

      1. Regarding your first point, that’s correct regarding the electoral vote, but I personally think it still matters that Romney do something other than lose the popular vote by a half a percent or so. The less Romney looses by the more his agenda has credibility. The popular vote is part of that, and in fact, the most efficient way to make that kind of statement (in terms of effort) is to go and vote for Obama in North Carolina.

        Regarding your other point, I was assuming that was true for you, but I saw what you did during the early part of the election season. You were busy stirring up all kinds of trouble. You may not have had candidates but you had issues and you kicked ass.

        1. Lol, I will always have issues.

          I suppose there is an argument to be made that it’s better for me to be stirring up trouble here than living somewhere where people agree with me. It’d be so nice to live somewhere where people agreed with me though.

          I don’t think there’s anything that Obama can do to give himself more legitimacy in the eyes of the Republicans, even if he won all 538.

    1. 2.2

      As long as we’re playing the “wouldn’t it be nice” game with the electoral system, why not go one step further and ask, “wouldn’t it be nice to have some kind of preference or multi-round voting system?” That way your vote could reflect your true desires instead of this tactical voting crap that nobody, regardless of their politics, actually likes.

  2. 3

    Yeah…I live in Virginia, so 3rd party isn’t an option.

    While I understand the frustration that 1/3 of your local and state candidates are running unopposed, people really need to show up and vote on the other 2/3 as well as the other things that pop up for votes. This year I get to vote on:
    – President
    – Senator
    – Representative
    – 2 state constitutional amendments
    – 2 county bond questions (one for fire and rescue equipment, one for schools)
    – City council

    If people really want to make a difference in the political system, they need to start voting at the local level. My county is heavily dominated by republicans, but they get voted in time and again because people are too lazy to read up on the issues and vote in the odd years. The yahoos on the Board of Supervisors in the county are likely going to end up at the state level and then on to the national level in the future.

  3. 4

    Because in 1992 Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote as a third-party candidate, and that was not meaningless. I[t] forced the two dominant parties to realize that the people were pissed off. That led to bi-partisan efforts that undoubtedly contributed to Bill Clinton’s success.

    Care to be more specific there? Because from where I was sitting at the time, Perot’s half-hearted, empty stunt (he’s in! He’s falling over himself! He’s out! He’s back in just in time for the debates!) did absolutely nothing: Democrats continued to work for the same boring sensible policies they’d always worked for (like, you know, being tax-and-spend liberals instead of borrow-and-spend conservatives), while Republicans started their long decline into reich-wing lunacy, mostly because their “moderates” had proven they had no agenda for America other than taxophobia.

    As for today’s Greens, I remember a news item from 2010 saying that a lot of homeless people were getting themselves on the Green Party ballots with help from one Republican millionaire. It was perfectly obvious this stooge was just paying for spoilers to divide the left; and I have to question where today’s Green candidates are coming from, and where their funding is coming from. Is this really a progressive campaign, or just another Republican scam?

  4. 6

    I’m tired of being told how I must vote, because I live in Ohio.

    I vote how I want to vote, because it’s my vote and my choice. I don’t need permission or a stamp of approval by people trying to impose their strategy on me.

    I share your frustration on local candidates running unopposed. I left a good chunk of my ballot blank because there no options besides one republican. Maybe I should have written in myself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *