Originally a comment by Captaintripps on “But you’re wrong that you’re free to vote third party.”
This line of reasoning is so screwy, though I understand where it comes from. My vote is just that: my vote. It wasn’t Al Gore’s and it wasn’t the string of third party candidates I voted for, nor was it Obama’s. It was my vote. When I voted third party I didn’t screw you over.
I think getting screwed over is beside the point, but if we’re going to put that terminology to use, people voting first party and second party are the ones doing the screwing for the rest of us. After Obama broke most of his campaign promises around civil liberties and kept us a violent and suspect nation, I refused to vote for him again in 2012.
I should take a hint at “secret ballot,” because I take a ton of shit for it from friends and relations when I say that I’ve not voted for a major candidate. But I’m supposed to hold my nose and not vote my conscience on issues I care about (like, I dunno, not bombing predominantly brown people on the other side of the planet) and care about “your” issues like the Supreme Court. Because pragmatism.
Pragmatism doesn’t seem to fly for a lot of the other ideologies our amorphous end of the spectrum holds dear. Why this one?
And I hate that positioning, too. Yeah, the Supreme Court is also my issue, but it’s like my own compatriots make me damned if I do or damned if I don’t. Because then it comes down to abortion and then I’m told I’m basically voting against a woman’s bodily autonomy. I don’t know…I think those bombed brown people way over there had a right to have bodily autonomy, too, but that’s gone.
There’s a whole load of stuff protected in the Bill of Rights; a lot of it is getting trampled on, abused, or outright ignored. Stupid precedents are being set. And ultimately I believe other civil liberties issues will make solving any of the rest next to impossible in the coming decades if they are not addressed. Which, ultimately is why I hate the discourse because it’s not nuanced and everyone feels forced to make pragmatic choices about what’s most important. Like they are “your” issues or “my” issues.
It doesn’t matter how cogent your arguments may be or how politely you put them, though. If you vote third party, you’re the asshole. Then clearly thoughtful people like Ophelia have to fall back and equivocate and say, oh, well, my vote didn’t count anyway, I don’t live somewhere contested. Fuck that. Own your vote. You don’t need to excuse it. It’s those overwhelmingly larger number of people who voted for the first and second parties who are the problem.
Gregory in Seattle says
I’ve been saying this for years, and lost friends over it.
My vote is the most precious, most valuable thing I own as a citizen in an elective democracy. It is not a rubber stamp owed to this person or that party; if candidates want me to bestow it on them, they had damned well better earn it.
Danny Butts says
The UK general election campaign is limited by law to the 25 days between the Prime Minister asking the Queen to dissolve parliament and the date of the election.
Enjoy the next 18 month y’all.
Gregory in Seattle says
Meant to add:
The whole “hold your nose and vote against X by voting for Y” argument is bogus: a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil. The fact that Candidate A need only present herself as less evil than Candidate B is a deep flaw in the American system.
I see Gregory beat me to it. For decades now, we’ve been voting for lesser evils and at this point we’re torturing people, holding prisoners in indefinite detention without trial, warring on just about everybody, eavesdropping on the world, and all that hasn’t even bought us any kind of respect for female citizens. We’re told the religious can control women’s bodies and the Supremes — which we had to vote for the Current Occupant to protect! — nod along and stamp it with constitutional approval.
Anybody who *isn’t* voting third party needs to justify their logic or just not discuss it.
Ophelia Benson says
There’s a great bit in The West Wing where Leo is persuading Bartlett to run (it’s a flashback), and he gets passionate about how sick he is of voting for “the lesser of two whatevers.”
Ophelia Benson says
Correction: the lesser of two who cares.
Marcus Ranum says
The people who are doing the screwing are the people who realized that they could “divide and conquer” by factionalizing government. I get furious when people who have had any chance of democracy stolen from them sanctimoniously lecture me that the only way to resolve the situation is to submit to my disempowerment. Uh. How’s it working for them?
(PS – factionalism is a well known problem! We’re seeing it happen to the SFWA right now. The US’ founding fathers were aware of the threat – after all, they were a faction… they just recognized it as unavoidable and wanted a disempowered populace anyway.)
Alethea Kuiper-Belt says
I think your electoral system is screwed, and you desperately need some kind of proportional representation or preferential voting.
But meanwhile, it seems to me that it’s mostly men standing on principle, which is a nice luxury while women need to vote for their lives. The Republican war on women is not ignorable for everyone.
@3 Gregory in Seattle,
“The fact that Candidate A need only present herself as less evil than Candidate B is a deep flaw in the American system.”
It’s a deep flaw in the Parliamentary System as well, the choice is also for the lesser of two evils, however, it’s parties rather than individuals. Preferential and proportional voting systems can allow minority parties some influence, particularly in bicameral parliaments.
I’m assuming that the US system is first-past-the post BTW.
The problem with voting for third parties on principle (provided you DO have a strong preference for one main party over the other) is that the people who say our election system only supports two parties… are RIGHT. This isn’t a matter of lack of political will, or building up grassroots support, or ingrained public habit (though those are all real issues) – it’s a matter of game theory. In first-past-the-post voting, given enough election cycles, a two-party system is inevitable. It’s not an artifact of our particular political spectrum, or a plot by the political elite, or a sign of Americans’ intellectual shortcomings. It’s an inherent part of our electoral system.
No matter how many times you cast a protest vote, there will never, EVER, be a viable third party in the United States unless the basic mechanics of voting in this country are reformed (to either a parliamentary or single transferable vote system)… and voting for a third party won’t help accomplish that, either.
Does this suck? Yes. Do we badly need a less stupid form of democracy in this country? Fuck yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that the American electoral system that actually exists right now in the real world requires people to vote strategically if they actually want their vote to matter.
And if you refuse to vote strategically, and a Republican wins? Then yes, other people who DID strategically vote for the Democrat are entirely justified in being angry at you. You can say they should be angrier at Republican voters (and it’s entirely possible that they are), but we’re talking about the difference between hating your enemies and hating your allies who you think have betrayed you… not really a productive or rational topic for discussion.
Lady Mondegreen says
QFT, and thank you.
A book I found helpful is Gaming the Vote, by William Poundstone. And no, it’s not about tactics for gaming votes (though it discusses them.) It’s about electoral systems and mathematics.
I think we all need to be aware of is that all of us here on this board are on one of the skinny ends of the bell curve of political views. (The Tea Party types, obviously, occupy the opposite end). From a long ways away, two people with a considerable distance between them can look very close together.
OTOH, the fat part in the middle of the bell curve has been shrinking, so presumably the skinny ends are swelling. So maybe the politicians need to realize that it’s pointless to attempt to appeal to the center of the country, when there isn’t much of a center that remains.
Since when? This has never been the case for me, and I’m far from the only one. Pragmatism is why I went further and further left.
When I think about rights getting trampled, I’m not thinking about theoretical arguments or lofty rhetoric, I’m thinking of the practical usage of those rights. I don’t give a crap about some theoretical right to bodily autonomy, or some theoretical idea of voting. That leads to discussions of the “bodily autonomy of the fetus” and whether a Poll Tax still maintains people’s right to vote. I care about rights being realized in real life.
Rights are practical, pragmatic things. That what makes me a liberal.
@Gregory in Seattle
Entirely disagree. Your vote only goes as far as your vote can go. Your free speech is far more important than some choices you make every couple years. And your vote counts a lot more at local levels than nationally.
This is the other thing that people seem to refuse to recognize. It’s not as if voting is the only way to influence politics. You can support organizations like the ACLU or volunteer or something. Or you can talk and change minds. Or you can even get other people to vote! This can have far more serious weight than your vote.
Not every societal or political problem can be solved by voting. A ton of political action happens outside of the election process. I see no reason why voting third party has any effect on the two-party system at all. If you want to change that, voting is simply not effective. Maybe something else would be, I don’t know. But if you’re in a heavily red/blue state, then I see no problem with using your vote for a third party as your voice.
Pierce R. Butler says
After the vote-counting debacle in 2000, a certain newly-elected Senator vowed to fix that mess by introducing and pushing through a constitutional amendment to reform/eliminate the Electoral College.
Though then and now this bright-eyed campaigner was the Great Hope of American Liberalism, somehow she just never got around to doing … jack squat. And the same situation she never followed up on will be harped on endlessly by her party’s apologists as the what-ya-gonna-do-about-it? strongest reason for those who want even a trickle of progressive
changestatus-quo defense to vote for her.
I like New York’s style of voting, given that we’re stuck in a system that is effectively two-party only. NY has many political parties, but most of them end up endorsing one of the two main candidates, and the votes are counted by party. So there will be, say, four different parties to vote for that all endorse the Democratic candidate. You can vote for that person through one of the minor parties, and the vote tally shows it, so the Democratic party (and the candidate) can see that X% of their votes came from the party with Y platform. so if X is high enough it’s notice that they really need to start paying attention to the Y platform or lose all of those voters to a third party candidate in the next go-round. It’s nowhere near ideal, but at least it’s a way to get some kind of message across.
I was about to mention NY’s fusion voting (also in seven other states, now, but the only one voted in is NY). I voted for Obama on a progressive platform, not the Democratic platform — Working Families Party. It used to be common, but the lefties (mostly) got too good at using it and states started banning it in the late 1800’s. Still the second most important practical solution I see to reforming elections in the US. (The first, obviously, is fixing Citizens United. The third is mandating a short election cycle. There’s lots more, too. We are terrible at democracy.)
I don’t buy the whole “It’s my vote and I can do what I want with it, so don’t criticize me or get angry with me.” argument. While jt’s obviously true that you have every right to do what you want with your vote, it’s just as true that I have every right to criticize you for not voting pragmatically or strategically and harming your/my interests. It’s also true I should be more upset with Republican voters, and I am, but they’re a lot harder to win over. Convincing people who already agree with me on the issues to behave strategically for their own interests is a much easier sell.
Ophelia Benson says
I’m not making a “don’t criticize me” argument though. But I am saying the rage people fly into on the subject is unreasonable, and I’m for sure saying they don’t get to order me to vote for the Major Party Candidate.
John Horstman says
Do I really have no responsibility to others regarding my actions? That, to me, is the implication of, “It’s my vote;” it’s suggesting that you don’t have a responsibility to consider how your vote impacts other people, when it’s not actually entirely your vote because our shared public policy impacts all of us, even those who don’t vote in favor of the people who ultimately wind up crafting it. “It’s my vote” is an “I’ve got mine, fuck you” libertarian argument in my estimation. It’s saying that the practical differences that voting strategically can make for other people are less important than your own ideological purity. I would always always ALWAYS rather have someone vote third party than not at all becasue third-party votes are actually counted unlike non-votes, but I still advocate voting for maximum impact. Everyone absolutely SHOULD vote their conscience: when trying to dissuade people from voting third party, I’m not criticizing that bit, I’m criticizing the fact that voting their conscience means adopting a deontological ethic instead of a consequentialist ethic. Perhaps any given person IS making a consequentialist argument; in those cases, I simply think they’re wrong about the actual consequences of that vote.
Mostly I see progressives and far leftists mistakenly thinking they’re (we’re) anything close to a plurality, and thus claiming that if everyone actually voted for candidates they really like, we’d get better winners. For example, from the OP, “It’s those overwhelmingly larger number of people who voted for the first and second parties who are the problem.” That’s literally saying that democracy is the problem – those overwhelmingly large groups of people are exactly the demos who are intended to cracy in a democracy. And it may be true that those people – and thus ultimately democracy itself – are the problem, but it’s a rather odd statement in an argument defending the personal nature of the vote. When you are a minority, your only hope of ever exercising power in a democracy is to work in coalition with others who are closer to your ideals to work on some shared goals, becasue you cannot achieve a large enough coalition to wield the power of the demos otherwise. The thing is, a majority of voters are already voting for candidates they really like – a strong majority of the putative Left LOVES Obama, for example.
I’m extremely sympathetic to people like Captaintripps; I really, really am. I have a fight with myself every fucking election over whether I’m going to vote for the Democrats’ corporatist candidate. And I always eventually come to the same conclusion – when neither possible winner supports my positions on many of the issues I care about,and in particular those that impact me most directly, I use my otherwise-useless vote to help the most people who aren’t me, to try to protect Social Security, the post office food stamps, reproductive autonomy, voting rights, etc. I reject the essentialist claim that voting for a candidate means supporting everything ze does – voting for the lesser of evils might still be a vote for evil, but it’s also a vote for less evil. A third-party vote isn’t actively harmful (a vote for Nader was not a vote for Bush, because a vote for Bush required two votes for Gore to give Gore a net-one-vote advantage, while a vote for Nader only required one vote for Gore to give Gore a one-vote advantage), but it’s also not actively helpful in any way that I can see.
Of course, you’re ‘free’ to vote Republican. Or to make Tinkerbell a write-in candidate for every post. Yeah, that’ll teach ’em a lesson.
Just like you’re ‘free’ to decide that vaccines cause autism and leave your kids, and all the vulnerable neighbors, unprotected.
In ‘The God that Failed.’ I THINK it was Koestler who said that the last straw for him was the German Communist Party being more concerned with crushing the socialist parties than with keeping Hitler out of the Chancellorship.
Still, American presidential elections are at the far end of a long, corrupt, process, which is partly supported by electoral indifference.
I think the anti-slavery Republicans may have been the LAST effective 3rd party in the U.S.
Ophelia Benson says
@ 19 and 20 – Oh, please. Jesus. Tell all this to the Democrats who voted for Bush in Florida.
Ophelia Benson says
Also, I said the bit about “it’s my vote” in reference to people who say 3d party voters took Gore’s votes and gave them to Nader. I’m not saying a libertarian “I can do whatever I want to”; don’t be silly; I’m saying my vote does not belong to Gore – or HRC or the Democratic Party or anyone other than me.
Phillip Hallam-Baker says
Folk need to learn that their ideas are nowhere near as precious as they think. Unless you are prepared to put way more thought into politics than most you are repeating the ideas of someone else.
All politics is a lesser of two evils. If you want to have a positive effect then you have to make hard choices. Pretending otherwise does not make you better than other people, it makes you a jerk.
Ralph Nader’s egotistical campaign in 2000 cost between half a million and a million Iraqi lives. None of the contenders for the GOP nomination shows any sign of acknowledging that war was a mistake, let alone immoral or wrong. So you have a choice between the war criminal party or the party that has the best chance to stop them.
Ophelia Benson says
Fuck. People just can’t do this “you have to vote for the Democrat” thing without flinging around the insults. I don’t think my ideas are “precious.” Of course I’m repeating the ideas of someone else; where did I say I wasn’t?! I’m not writing a manifesto or claiming to have started a new party, I’m just saying I don’t have to vote for the Democrat. What the fuck does that have to do with thinking my ideas are “precious” or that I’m not repeating other people’s ideas?!
Gah. This is how I lost friends in 2000 – people just got incredibly fucking rude and insulting simply because I didn’t plan to vote for Gore in a state he was going to win anyway.
Ophelia Benson says
Oh and also, Phillip Hallam-Baker, I’m not pretending I’m better than other people.
As a matter of fact you can apologize for all of that or you can fuck off.
Chris Clarke says