Why I, as a progressive, cannot vote for a 3rd party presidential candidate in the United States

Jack Runyan, Nov. 4, 2016

It’s fair to say that I’m generally to the left of the Democratic Party on most issues. To give you some idea, if there were a well-crafted ballot initiative in my state proposing, say, a statewide universal basic income, I would probably vote for it. I think the debate around the minimum wage gets fixated on adjusting for inflation when that’s only a part of the issue; my view is that it should be adjusted for gains in productivity as well. In general, on economic issues, I would like to see a Democratic Party that proposes a platform in the spirit of the Second Bill of Rights. Even more ambitious is the platform put out by Movement for Black Lives, which is arguably the most thorough platform I have seen this entire election.

It’s no secret that Hillary Clinton’s platform is no where near as ambitious as either the Second Bill of Rights or the platform put forth by the Movement for Black Lives. This does not mean her platform is insignificant however. Far from it.

  • She proposes a public option and a Medicare buy-in as fixes for the Affordable Care Act.
  • She proposes universal voter registration, repairing the Voting Rights Act, a national standard for early voting, and restoring voting rights to people who have paid their debt to society.
  • She proposes overturning the Citizens United ruling, potentially through a Constitutional Amendment if the situation demands it.
  • She has proposed an end to private prisons.
  • She proposes tuition-free public college for students from families making up to $125,000 a year.
  • She proposes going after tax subsidies enjoyed by oil and coal companies and move that money to cleaner energy.
  • She is committed to ending the Hyde Amendment, which disproportionately affects lower income women.
  • She supports a national use of force standard, training programs to mitigate implicit bias, and federal funds to make body cameras available to all police departments.
  • She supports more heavy regulations of shadow banking activities, which were a significant driver of the 2008 financial crisis.

Even if these initiatives all fall short of where I personally think we should go, they are all significant proposals. Not only does her opponent not match her on any of these issues, his platform embodies turning back the clock on a lot of the progress made during the Obama administration. Most notably by calling for things like the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But that is still only half of the issue; Donald Trump has betrayed a temperament that is simply unacceptable in any potential President, and combined with his lack of qualifications and the many facets of his bigotry, he represents a unique threat, especially in light of his campaign’s viability.

The viability of his campaign demands that a progressive not only consider the best ways to advance a progressive agenda, but also consider what actions one must take to stop one of the most thoroughly toxic agendas in recent memory. Such a consideration is inevitably tied to being cognizant of not just the electoral system which we utilize, but also why our political culture is the way it is because of it. The two-party system exists because:

  1. The Presidency is decided by who wins an absolute majority of electoral votes.
  2. Nearly every state awards its electoral votes based on a winner-take-all, first-past-the-post system.
  3. Further reinforcing the two-party system is the fact that elections in the U.S. in general are decided through plurality voting systems.
  4. In such a system, the human tendency is for interests to forge alliances with other interests in order to achieve the most votes, and that is a tendency that is reinforced in our electoral system from top-to-bottom.

The GOP represents an umbrella of interests with similarities: neoconservatives, social conservatives, and fiscal conservatives. The Democratic Party, broken down by ideology, is predominantly composed of liberals and those more toward the center. Thanks to the history and agenda of the Democratic Party, it also contains an alliance of minority interests (Black people, Hispanics, LGBTs, etc.). These different interests adhere to their respective alliances because they have the most to gain by collectively getting the most votes. And if the alliance is broken, all interests within that alliance are at greater risk of loss under our current electoral system. This is precisely why third parties have a hard time gaining national traction; national traction is contingent on getting significant swaths of people to break with the aforementioned alliances, and therefore going against the human tendency reinforced by our electoral system.

To succinctly expand on that reality: as a progressive, I am under an onus to advance a progressive agenda while simultaneously doing what I can to stop a regressive one. A vote for Jill Stein accomplishes neither objective in any meaningful way. I forgo lending my support for a viable agenda that has the potential to achieve some progressive aims by voting for Jill Stein, and I fail to stop a truly regressive agenda by voting for a candidate that is not capable of stopping Trump. Extending on that conclusion, I realize a vote for Jill Stein is one that puts vulnerable communities even more at risk of a Donald Trump presidency, and I could not, in good conscience, follow through on an action that is guaranteed to risk a Donald Trump presidency. This analysis puts aside some of my personal issues with Jill Stein as a candidate, which I will not get into here.

When other self-identifying progressives hear this logic, a common retort I hear is they simply want to “vote their conscience.” But I realize my vote has consequences beyond whether my conscience feels assuaged or not. Here’s the reality:

  • “I’m voting my conscience” is the battle cry of those who do not understand our current system or don’t care to understand.
  • “I’m voting my conscience” tends to be the battle cry of people who mostly only have their conscience on the line.
  • “I’m voting my conscience” is the battle cry of people who won’t meaningfully consider what their vote means for other people.

I lived under George W. Bush. As a white male with a middle class upbringing provided by a family with good job security, his policies didn’t negatively affect my life to any noticeable degree at all. It is a privilege I FULLY recognize. But I was able to see beyond my privilege. I saw the collective suffering he unleashed, not just at home, but abroad as well. The first election in which I participated was 2008. When I voted for Obama, my primary concern at the time wasn’t what he could do for me. My primary concern was what he could do for others.

Voting for a third party presidential bid in this electoral system is an exercise in futility if I want to advance progressive policies and do what I can to stop thoroughly regressive ones, which the GOP’s platform undoubtedly is. Worse still, it needlessly puts the rights and protections of individuals more vulnerable than myself at risk.

I understand our electoral system. I thoughtfully considered what my vote not JUST for myself, but what it means for others as well. And that’s why I voted early for Hillary Clinton.

I realize none of the reasoning in here is particularly novel or extraordinary. I just wanted to be able to articulate that reasoning as lucidly as I can. If you think this reasoning could convince anyone else to vote for Hillary Clinton, I encourage you to share it.

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