Fiercely partisan voters on both sides of the aisle agree on one thing: If you vote for a third party or independent candidate instead of one with an "(R)" or "(D)" printed next to their name in the newspapers, you are basically just "throwing away" your vote.
In their political calculus, a principled vote is a wasted vote unless it's for a candidate that's polling as one of the top two in an election, and for them it's better to cast a damage control vote for the least bad option that has a chance of winning, than waste a vote on principle.
But this argument can only make sense– if it makes sense at all– to the extent that there actually is such a thing as a least bad option among the top two candidates in a race, to the extent that a vote for one of them would really amount to damage control, to the extent that there's actually a substantive difference between the two.
I'd like to suggest that in some races, maybe many races, there really isn't such a difference. That especially in high stakes elections with lots of money flowing in to both the Republican and Democratic candidates, either one will work to maintain the same Republicrat status quo voters have been unhappy with for decades now.
Yet they keep getting strung along by the same two parties that are responsible for the system they want reformed every four years.
If the system can scapegoat somebody for the problems it's causing that voters are perennially not happy with, it can continue on– so it splits in two and scapegoats itself.
It’s like evil genius level design, but there’s no actual evil genius puppet master who planned it out that way, just the system naturally protecting itself because there is so much at stake.
Adam Smith’s invisible hand doesn’t go away when you modify natural market forces into something perverse. It keeps quietly and mysteriously moving people, only now it’s corrupt.
Well if there isn't a substantive difference between the Republican and the Democrat in your election, then voting for either one of them is throwing away your vote, unless you actually don't want anything in our political system to change.
Unless the (R) or (D) running for that office is one of the few extraordinary exceptions that are actually trying to change things from within the two party system (Hint: Look at how they have actually voted and their past positions on issues, not just what they're saying to get you to vote for them this campaign season)...
You might be better off not throwing your vote away on a Status Quo (D) or Status Quo (R) candidate. If enough people could see this is how partisan politics works, a candidate who would really do something about the problems with government might be able to win one day sooner than you think.