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The Consequences of Third-Party Voting

United States Activism
by D.M. Andre Nov 22, 2016

D.M. Andre is an avid traveler, writer, husband, and father. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Matador Network.

“May your choices represent your hopes, not your fears.” — Nelson Mandela

The consequences of third party voting are fairly straightforward — the individual you voted for receives one more vote and those you didn’t vote for get one less vote. Unfortunately, many people are trying to obscure this rather simple case of cause-and-effect with elaborate explanations of how third party votes really supported Donald Trump. Perhaps unsurprisingly, after Trump’s stunning win on Tuesday, a number of Democrats have unleashed a steady stream of vitriol against third-party voters. Many have tried to paint Donald Trump’s win as a direct consequence of people voting for the Libertarian and Green Party candidates. Others have immaturely tried to characterize third-party votes as protest votes. And some others have arrogantly tried to characterize third-party voters as nothing more than spoilers. Throughout these tirades, a common theme has emerged — those that lost are refusing to take responsibility for their loss.

Third party votes are not the problem; they are a result of the problem.

Arguments about the efficacy of the Electoral College aside, the election results delivered a clear result. Donald Trump won. Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, and Evan McMullin lost. People try to obscure the results by saying Johnson or Stein took votes away from Clinton, thereby causing her to lose and Trump to win. By that logic, Trump took votes from Clinton. It’s amazing this isn’t clearer to some, but the fact is you can’t take something from someone that they don’t already have. No one took votes from Clinton — she didn’t own those votes, the people casting them did. And people cast their votes in the manner in which they chose, as is their right. Third-party voters did not cost Clinton the election, nor did they help elect Donald Trump. The reality is Republicans and Democrats had a chance, but failed to convince those inclined to vote for Trump, Johnson, Stein, or McMullin to vote otherwise.

Even if one agrees with the assertion that third party candidates “took” votes from Clinton, they’d have to acknowledge that at least some votes were also “taken” from Trump. After all, many long-time Republicans were publicly distancing themselves from Trump throughout the campaign. Poll results have shown that many of the key races were tight, but the votes don’t calculate what might have happened. Only the individual voter knows how they might have voted. Therefore, assuming that third party votes only drew away from Clinton is nothing more than speculation, and poor speculation at that.

A Cognitive Bias

Decades of political experience, years of planning, and incredible funding all fell short of winning the election. Blaming this loss on external factors is subjective and arrogant. Those who insist on laying blame need to be objective, they need to look no further than the Democratic Party itself. Democrats failed to motivate enough voters, they failed to anticipate the strength of Donald Trump’s backing, and they failed to engage third-party voters on the issues important to them. These failures are truly amazing considering that Clinton had four decades of political experience and a coalesced party rallying behind her, while Trump had an extremely fractured Republican base bickering behind him. In addition to the arrogance, accusing third party voters of causing Clinton’s loss overlooks a glaring fact — an estimated 43% of eligible voters didn’t vote. Surely, their inaction had an impact on the outcome. Undoubtedly, some of them would have voted for Clinton.

Democrats were certainly ready to own the win they expected; now it’s time to own the loss. This election loss may be a bitter pill to swallow, but it won’t be made any easier by blaming others. Rather than labeling third-party voters as protestors and spoilers and laying the blame for your loss at their feet, why not begin courting those voters. Similar to the broad vilification of Trump supporters as racists, misogynists, and deplorable, attempting to de-legitimize third-party voters has backfired and will certainly backfire again. If Democrats want third-party votes they’ll have to earn them. They can start trying to earn them today by treating third-party voters and their issues with respect.


There certainly are consequences to voting third party, but Trump’s election and Clinton’s loss are not among them. Voting third party was a rational choice for those that chose to do so; it was a respectable way to voice your opinion and let the system know that there are more than two choices; it was responsible participation in a democracy. Those that chose to vote third-party should be proud of their role and not let the sting of others defeat make them regretful.

This article first appeared on Medium and is republished here with permission.

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