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Why should I vote for a major party candidate for POTUS?
May 14, 2012 9:22 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for convincing arguments about why I should vote for a major party candidate for President of the United States. This isn't as direct a question as it sounds.

Specifically, I am looking for a convincing argument about why I should vote for a major party candidate, without doing either of two things in your response.

First, this isn't a question about which of the two major party candidates I should vote for. The question is more, "why would I vote for a major party?"

Second, I have heard the argument made many times that if I were to vote for a non-major-party candidate, I'd be "throwing my vote away." I've heard that argument in every Presidential election, "Just hold your nose and vote for XXX, it is so important this time."

I understand the latter argument, I really do. For myself, I simply can no longer accept that argument, and I'd rather not rehash that dead-to-me argument. So, I'm looking for reasonable arguments other than the "You'll throw your vote away, Nader, Nader" one.

I promise not to debate or thread-sit. I'm an open-minded person, honestly looking for an argument which could change my mind. I'm open to change, but I need a better argument or I'll simply vote my conscience.
posted by Invoke to Law & Government (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Where do you live? The arguments change depending on what state you live in.
posted by brainmouse at 9:25 AM on May 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


You should vote your conscience. If you truly believe that a particular candidate is speaking for you, then you should vote for him or her.

No vote is wasted.

I do worry about 3rd party candidates splitting a vote, especially when it's very close. I suppose you should reconsider your options if of the two major party candidates, there is one that you simply cannot abide, in which case, cast your vote against him or her by voting for the major party opponent.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:26 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because you care about the eventual policy implications which are concrete outcomes of the choice - for instance, the power to appoint Supreme Court justices who will very likely rule on abortion, gay marriage, and Citizens United in the years to come, or the impact on such things as agency policy or Social Security, which will have much longer lifetimes than an election cycle and impact your life in concrete ways.

It's about outcomes - not candidates. When people talk about "throwing your vote away," what they're actually saying is that by voting for candidates who have no chance of winning, you have chosen not to influence the outcomes which will set the conditions of aspects of your own life and the people around you, essentially opting out and living with whatever outcomes the majority prefers.
posted by Miko at 9:26 AM on May 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


, I am looking for a convincing argument about why I should vote for a major party candidate

Assuming you are in the USA, the nature of a first-past-the-post system of elections is such that only two parties are capable of competing.

It is simply built into the structure of the current system that you have only two major parties to choose from. Anything else is just peacocking. Which is fine, if that's what you want.
posted by deanc at 9:27 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you are in a position in life where it truly doesn't matter to you which major party candidate wins, then feel free to 'vote your conscience'. The rest of us will just have to live with whatever happens, I guess.
posted by empath at 9:28 AM on May 14, 2012


Where do you live? The arguments change depending on what state you live in.

I live in Oregon.
posted by Invoke at 9:29 AM on May 14, 2012


If you live in Oregon, it doesn't matter what you (as a single person) do - the Democratic candidate will win the state's electors.

As such, it seems exceedingly appropriate for you to vote for someone else, because any votes past 50% in your state are absolutely meaningless to the electoral college. Since you aren't helping or hurting the major party candidates with your vote past 50%, you might as well vote for someone that makes you feel more comfortable.
posted by saeculorum at 9:30 AM on May 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


I agree with saeculorum given your location, but the long-term Supreme Court implications are what keep me voting for one of the two big parties. I may not agree with the way either candidate is going to run things in an immediate sense, but there is usually a significant difference in the type of justices that each party appoints.
posted by something something at 9:33 AM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Because supporting third party candidates doesn't really help support those ideas. Did Nader cause mainstream attention to be focused on his pet issues? Not so much; he mostly contributed to a process story about Democratic politics. In fact, he probably marginalized his ideas. On the flip side, people like Grover Norquist and Ron Paul worked within Republican circles, and now we're actually at a point where half the country thinks Ayn Rand is a serious philsopher.
posted by spaltavian at 9:37 AM on May 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ask yourself the question: which one of these individuals will shift public policy in a direction I favor at the margin? That's the real question here; it's silly to vote on platforms because politicians don't enact their platforms, they work within a complicated web of governing institutions to move policy at the margin.

Given the US electoral system, the answer to that question is, almost certainly, going to be a major-party candidate.
posted by downing street memo at 9:37 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have no idea if this is true, but I have heard people argue that voting for a third party, if they get a certain number or percentage of votes, increases their federal (or state?) funding for the next election.
posted by Grither at 9:41 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The most often-promoted argument for opposition to non-two-party candidates is based on faulty logic. Regardless of who you vote for, the only way you don't influence the outcome is by not voting at all. Because whether you pick a major or third-party candidate, mathematically, your vote must affect the resulting proportions of votes for all registered candidates (ignoring ballot fraud).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:52 AM on May 14, 2012


If you live in Oregon, it doesn't matter what you (as a single person) do - the Democratic candidate will win the state's electors.

I agree. One more thing about this: even if, by some chance, Romney were to win Oregon, there is still no way your vote could be decisive. No matter how much you want to consider unlikely scenarios, there is no possibility that Romney will win Oregon and that it will be a decisive state, i.e. that he would have lost if only he had lost Oregon. The only way for Romney to win Oregon would be for him to win the whole election by a dramatic landslide. It's possible. Presidents have won by a landslide in the past (Bush in '88, Nixon in '72). But if Romney wins by a landslide, then, by definition, no one state will be decisive -- any one state could have gone the other way, and the result would have been the same.

Ask yourself the question: which one of these individuals will shift public policy in a direction I favor at the margin? . . . Given the US electoral system, the answer to that question is, almost certainly, going to be a major-party candidate.

Huh? How does that follow?

I agree with saeculorum given your location, but the long-term Supreme Court implications are what keep me voting for one of the two big parties. I may not agree with the way either candidate is going to run things in an immediate sense, but there is usually a significant difference in the type of justices that each party appoints.

But you could also vote for a third-party candidate who's likely to appoint Supreme Court justices you prefer. Also, if you prefer liberal justices (though I don't see anything in the question about the OP's political leanings), consider that it's surprisingly common for Republican presidents to appoint them: Earl Warren, Blackmun (who wrote the Court's opinion in Roe v. Wade), Souter, Stevens.
posted by John Cohen at 9:53 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someone else has already pointed out the existence of Duverger's Law.

If you disagree with both Republicans and Democrats, the best way to do something about it is not to vote against them in the general election where you have one vote out of 300 million, but to start working within your community, where your individual voice has a much larger impact. This article about the Vermont Progressive Party is a very interesting example of how this can work.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Vote in a way that is most likely to bring about the results you desire, and least likely to bring about the results you don't desire.

The first presidential election I voted in, I lived in a state that was a sure win for the major party candidate I preferred, so I voted for a third party candidate to make a statement about recognizing additional political views. When I lived in a state that was more contested, I voted for a major party candidate.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:54 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


But you could also vote for a third-party candidate who's likely to appoint Supreme Court justices you prefer.

Well, the problem with this is that a third party candidate will not win. Not unless there are serious structural changes made to our electoral system.
posted by something something at 10:00 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


fair enough question and comments. My view: at elections, you are voting not just for the president etc but for who will potentially run congress and thus stymie or help pass whatever legislation the president and/or a party wants.

The history of third party candidates is not promising in the US thus far.

Let's say you like Obama but dislike his party...you vote for GOP and Obama? etc
posted by Postroad at 10:01 AM on May 14, 2012


While I support the ideal of voting your conscience, our electoral system is critically flawed in such a way as to make that nearly impossible (unless you support one of the two major parties). Voting for the presidential candidate of your choice assumes that all candidates receive consideration based on votes, whereas in practice, this is not the case, since the system is set up to not only marginalize, but actively punish, support for third-party candidates for the presidency.

Therefore, depending on your agreement with or feelings about the two major parties, your most ethical course may in fact be to simply not vote for that office.

For local, regional positions, though, it probably is worth voting for third-party candidates, since in these cases there actually can be a significant possibility of getting your candidate in.

But given that all of the choices available to you are essentially just workarounds to a deeply broken electoral system, probably the only remotely effective course of action would be to try to fix the system, by promoting and working for campaign finance and election reform.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:07 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because voting is one of the few ways you can exercise your power on the government.

If you want to support a third party or change one of the existing two from within, however, you have to start at the bottom. Work with parties and candidates at the lowest possible levels (for instance, school boards and county councils) first, and if change is made and/or the candidate wins, move up the ladder to state and eventually federal candidates. This strategy has been wildly successful for conservatives over the last 30+ years (almost entirely for Republican candidates and organizations), and apart from a brief flirtation in the 2006 and 2008 elections, neither liberals nor true independents have actually focused on it. This usually has led to infighting and dissolution of goals, especially amongst the Democrats, and conservatives have been lightning-quick to take advantage of it to create rifts and suppress enthusiasm. But you're going to have to have a lot of patience and dedication, because this kind of change will likely not take effect for years, and sometimes doesn't happen at all.

Let's take abortion, for example. There was a major setback for conservatives with Roe v Wade in the 70s that lasted into the 80s, but eventually they packed the local governments, which provided good candidates for the state legislatures and/or governorships, which led to the last decade where they had ironclad majorities in state governments that could institute anti-choice laws in a large number of states.It took several decades, but now they're entrenched everywhere and have promoted that to the federal level. That means that on this issue, given the likely majorities in both chambers of the US Congress if the GOP gains the Presidency, they'd have the votes and a compliant President to do whatever they want on Roe via a simple majority (either by getting rid of the filibuster or amending an unrelated budget bill via "reconciliation"). Same would go for passing Paul Ryan's budget (essentially killing the social safety net for anyone under 55 and not wealthy), DOMA reauthorization, and defunding of most research and regulatory institutions. And most importantly, due to retirements of left-leaning and centrist Justices, the composition of the Supreme Court would be cemented as pretty far right-wing for many years to come, which would likely end up in repealing most or all of the major movement of the last several decades (just in the next two years we have gay marriage, Roe, large parts of the Voting Rights Act, and restraint on law enforcement, and that's just the ones that are definitely on the docket).
posted by zombieflanders at 10:08 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


CGPGrey's video outlining how "first past the post" voting systems work is an entertaining summary of why you're stuck in a two party system (and the subsequent videos outline some alternatives).

I regretfully agree with Miko above. It's about outcomes. If you live in an area where voting will likely be close and want to support your preferred outcome you are more or less forced to vote for one of the two major parties. The third parties have a bad track record of parlaying a split vote into a seat at the table, like the Nader example spaltavian gives above.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2012


A third party president, even if elected, would be completely powerless. Constitutional checks and balances limit the power of the President. Without the support of like minded party members in Congress, POTUS cannot appoint federal official, spend money, make treaties, or make war. You can see how difficult it is for the current president to pass any of his proposed legislation or get approvals for his nominees, even with his party controlling the Senate. Executive orders or policy changes could easily be legislated away without party protection in Congress. A third party president would find it impossible to enact their agenda, particularly the kind of reforms that would make someone run outside the two party system in the first place.

At a national level, at this time, you are better off voting for candidates that moves an existing party in the direction you want. If you are more interested in supporting a third party, you are better to follow zombieflanders advice and start local.
posted by chrisulonic at 10:24 AM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


It depends on your State. A third party candidate will not win, and that's that.

If you know the people of your State will overwhelmingly vote for one major party candidate, vote your conscience for the little party candidate.

If you know your State will be close between the two majors, vote for the major one you despise the least, which would primarily be a vote against the one you hate most.

The third party parties understand this, mostly.
posted by caclwmr4 at 11:07 AM on May 14, 2012


You should vote your conscience.

This and only this. Maybe its a democrublican candidate, maybe it's a third party, maybe it's no one. Don't rationalize the marginalization of your voice.
posted by wrok at 11:19 AM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


In a country of 300 million people, any president simply has to be a compromise for the vast majority of the population. There is no way to please that many individuals with one representative. That means thinking in non-negotiable terms on too many issues is not just unrealistic but in a sense disrespectful to the variety and diversity of opinion in the country. To find "good enough" we have to move past ideal.

If you think the variety and diversity of opinion is due to poor education, misunderstanding, brainwashing and so on, then write, teach, rally, and promote ideas. Voting for a third party candidate as a protest in a "safe" state, in order to support the candidate's promotion of certain ideas is reasonable, I think. In a swing state, or even just with the aim of being true to yourself, it misses the objective of an election. The aim is compromise.

If you truly believe neither candidate is acceptable, voting for a third party won't actually result in a change of power, and if the candidates are truly unacceptable in a morally significant way, real action has to be taken, not just a symbolic vote. If it's just that they're mushy compromising middle-grounders, welcome to democracy.
posted by mdn at 11:51 AM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


My daughter wants me to vote for "That boot guy" (aka Vermin Supreme) who is not on the primary ballot in Oregon. I think I'm going to write him in anyway though.

It'd be cool if he got two votes in Oregon.
posted by vespabelle at 12:44 PM on May 14, 2012


The importance of nominations to the Supreme Court cannot be overstated. In other election years, it might not matter as much, but right now we have four justices in their 70s. If Ginsburg were the only one to retire during the next presidential term, as SCOTUSblog suggests, then the nomination by Obama of a liberal judge would only be keeping things even with how they are now on the court, politically. A GOP president would bring the count on the court to 6-3, in favor of conservative Justices. With the fact that the existing conservatives have pretty consistently voted conservative, that pretty much guarantees that most cases that come before the SC in at least the near future will be decided that way.

If Ginsburg were the only one to retire in the 2012-2016 term, then during the next presidential term (2016-2020), we have the very real likelihood of Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Breyer retiring. Their ages in 2016 will be 80, 80 and 78, (respectively). Scalia and Kennedy were appointed by Reagan and Breyer was appointed by Clinton, so that will be two conservatives (Kennedy goes more conservative than liberal) and one liberal retiring. If there is a GOP president from '16-'20, they will appoint conservatives, which (assuming Ginsburg retires during the next term and is replaced by a left-leaning judge) will bring the count on the court to 6-3, conservative. A Democrat president appointing the three justices will bring the count to 6-3, liberal. Either way, that is how the court will be locked for decades, unless a real middle-of-the-ground swing voting Justice were appointed (which I don't think will happen). Also, given the way the GOP has swung in the last couple of years, conservative does not in any sense mean the same thing it did during Reagan, so with new conservatives appointed, we could have a more radicalized Supreme Court than we have now.

Citizens United has fundamentally changed the fabric of democracy in this country (for the worse) and that's only one (albeit major) example. The legality of abortion is still very much under threat. So, who is elected is a very big deal for these reasons. I don't really jump on board as much with the whole voting your conscience thing, personally. As other have mentioned, if you want to enact change on the system, the best way to try to do it is on a local level upwards and not the presidential election. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:09 PM on May 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Check the polls closely in Oregon and maybe even vote late if there are exit polls available early. It looks fairly close now, but if it turns into a blow out than your vote probably doesn't matter anyway, and you may as well vote for a third party candidate. Perhaps voting for a third party candidate can give that candidate or party or set of issues more legitimacy--though I don't know of such a candidate in this election.

If it is close and your vote does matter, this is a hard question to answer. It depends on what you think will happen to the things you care about if Obama vs. Romney gets elected. And how much value there really is in "sending a message," or whatever, by voting for a third party.
posted by Golden Eternity at 2:15 PM on May 14, 2012


[Folks, the OP has been fairly clear about what they are looking for, just complaining about the way voting in the US works is not answering the question. Please stick to the question, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 PM on May 14, 2012


Thank you sincerely for your wonderful responses. My mind isn't changed, although the arguments are pretty good.

I won't be voting for a major-party candidate, because it really doesn't matter in my state, and because I do not want to hold my nose and vote for Obama. I'm not sure what I'd do if I lived in a swing state. At that point, I probably would be more influenced by the SCOTUS arguments, and might be able to suck up my ethics and vote for the slightly lesser of two evils.

I have been long considering getting into politics, starting at the bottom. Those are probably famous last words, I realize.

If anyone is willing to vote for a bald, average looking atheist, a twice-divorced Buddhist, who strongly believes in single-payer healthcare, complete removal of all church tax exemptions, withdrawal from all foreign wars, and legalization of marijuana, then I'll be in like Flynn. Haha.
posted by Invoke at 7:27 PM on May 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you live in Oregon, it doesn't matter what you (as a single person) do - the Democratic candidate will win the state's electors.

Not if everyone thinks like this. No one vote matters, it is the sum of all votes. It's just an applause-o-meter.

I agree with zombieflanders- support third party candidates in local elections, and vote for the least worst viable candidate in bigger ones.
posted by gjc at 8:03 PM on May 14, 2012


One more thing: Are you registered with either major party to vote in today's primaries? You should always vote in primaries (and special elections), which are good opportunities to make a choice in those local- and state-level elections that you have at least a little more impact in and have a lot of impact on you, especially in the short-term*. Remember, it might be a little dinky to vote for things like county comptroller or attorney general, but not only do they have a big impact on your immediate political environment, a lot of these folks end up running for bigger positions in the executive and legislative bodies of both your state and the federal governments, and this is a prime chance to pick people who share your concerns about where you actually live and (probably) work.


* Or, alternately to mess with the process of those that disagree with you, although that's at a little ethically weird and usually doesn't work
posted by zombieflanders at 7:12 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


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