Why lodge a protest vote?
Thinking back on all the times I’ve checked the box for people, it occurs to me that I haven’t actually ever voted for a “winner” in a presidential election. I’ve simply been content to lodge a protest vote each cycle, because no candidate has ever really earned my support. Recently, however, I came across an op-ed in the New York Times that challenged my voting patterns, written by Charles Blow and entitled “The Folly of the Protest Vote”. Blow tells his readers to wake up to the reality that, by voting third party, we could possibly be electing a demagogue. If we don’t get over our principles and vote for the lesser of two evils, he says, then all of our protestation (Blow draws on the long line of demonstrations surrounding police killings of African-Americans) will be for naught because of that one “protest” vote.
On one level, this is an easy charge to dismiss because the logic just doesn’t follow. It isn’t the case that a vote for a third party is a proxy vote for the “more evil” candidate. The vote doesn’t go into their column. Neither does it cancel out a vote for the “less evil” candidate. The tip-off that this is a weak argument is the resort to fear. (Since the supreme court is at stake, this election could have consequences for our grandchildren!!!)
The Ross Perot Myth
Looking at the hard evidence shows that this argument is essentially baseless. Data journalists at FiveThirtyEight analyzed the myth that Ross Perot sabotaged the election for George H.W. Bush in 1992. Perot claimed 19% of the vote as an independent. This is a staggering number of votes for a third party candidate; likely triple Gary Johnson’s performance this November. The problem for the mythers, though, is that exit polls showed that Perot’s voters would have split evenly between Bush and Clinton. The simple fact is that Bush was unpopular at the time and polled consistently behind Clinton. Candidates win or lose on their own merits, as it should be.
So I will cast my protest vote this November, again. Our primary system chose the two most unpopular major party candidates in history. Why should we swallow this broken system and continue to give a mandate to a candidate we don’t like? A combined protest vote of 15% would send a message to both parties, and that is my hope.
What do you think? Is a protest vote the way to go this time around? Let us know on Facebook or in the comments below.