Media pundits and prominent publications are putting the full court press on third-party candidates. It is no coincidence that Hillary Clinton’s efforts to attract millennial voters coincides with the pervasive media attack on Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.
In The New York Times, Charles M. Blow – concerned about the “folly of the protest vote,” writes, “There is a simple truth here: Either Clinton or Trump will be the next president of the United States. Not Jill Stein. Not Gary Johnson. Clinton or Trump.”
Again, in the NYT, Paul Krugman doubles-down on this false dichotomy: “But don’t vote for a minor-party candidate to make a statement. Nobody cares.”
Krugman’s elitist, anti-third party rant closes, “Your vote matters, and you should act accordingly — which means thinking seriously about what you want to see happen to America.”
But it’s not just the pundits who scorning voters for thinking outside of the two-party box.
Bernie Sanders – a man who built his entire political career on inspiring voters to support him despite his lack of affiliation to the major parties – sounds oddly like the very same critics who ridiculed the long-shot nature of his own political legacy.
"When we're talking about president of the United States, in my personal opinion, this is not the time for a protest vote," Sanders told a crowd at a recent rally.
Even our commander-in-chief has wagged his finger at those who are reconsidering their commitment to the major parties.
Turning this into a personal matter, President Obama upped the ante by claiming a protest vote – especially if made by black voters – would be a direct insult to his presidency. This is a strong condemnation coming from the man who preached about the “audacity of hope.”
"Something better awaits us"
During his address to supporters following the Iowa Caucuses in 2008, President Obama described being hopeful as “not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight.” He continued, “Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.”
Those who vote third party have the hope that something better awaits them, such as an electoral system that promotes political pluralism, instead of the stale duopoly that we’ve endured for far too long.
Is there “evidence to the contrary” that third party candidates have a snowball’s chance in hell to win? Most certainly.
Will American voters elect a third-party president this election cycle? The odds aren’t in their favor.
Does this mean that these establishment pundits are right, and we should just vote for the two major parties? Respectfully, no.
The Psychological Effect of Vote Shaming
These condescending and belittling words are a part of a deliberate strategy by the major parties. This strategy is best known as vote shaming, and we should all be cognizant of it.
Though it may seem trivial, vote shaming does have a documented psychological effect on voters, which is why those with a vested interest in perpetuating the status quo are utilizing it.
In 2008, researchers from Yale University and University of Northern Iowa conducted a study, titled, “Social Pressure and Voter Turnout,” on how voters react to certain pieces of political mailings.
Voters who received targeted messages – ones that suggested that they would be alienated by their neighbors and friends for voting a certain way because “voting is public record” – demonstrated a “substantially higher turnout” for voting.
“These findings demonstrate the profound importance of social pressure as an inducement to political participation,” the study concludes.
Voters can be emotionally manipulated when applying the right amount of stigma to what should be a private decision.
The Myth of the Spoiler
There is nothing new about this tactic. Vote shaming is closely associated with the age old – and frequently debunked – spoiler effect. Erroneously yet inexorably linked to the campaigns of minor parties, the myth of the spoiler resurfaces when prominent third and fourth party candidates experience a surge in support.
They’ll tell you that Ross Perot spoiled the election for George Bush, Sr., claiming that Perot “stole” support from right-leaning voters. This, of course, neglects the fact that Perot opposed free trade agreements, demanded strict environmental protections, called for extensive gun control measures, advocated for extensive cuts into military spending, and proposed a more progressive tax structure. Not exactly a conservative platform, was it?
They’ll also tell you that Ralph Nader spoiled the election for Al Gore – bringing upon eight years of failed foreign policy blunders and financial collapse of the Bush era. They tell you this despite the fact that over 200,000 registered Democrats voted for Bush, not Nader. Meanwhile, Nader only received approximately 95,000 total votes in the state.
Hold your ground, stick to your gut instincts, and vote your conscience. Your vote is your choice, and you should be at liberty to do so with gusto as you please. Anybody who tells you that you are throwing your vote away not only doesn’t respect your opinion, but also believes that your viewpoints are not worthy of broader representation.