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.