3rd Party? The wrong game?
Updated: Nov 6, 2020
So when faced with 2 candidates that a person does not like very much the seemingly obvious solution is to vote for a 3rd party candidate or to write in a person you would like to be president. After all, we should vote for the person we believe is the best choice for president. It's that simple, right?
Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Politics is a team sport
Many misunderstand the nature of American politics. By design, our political system is a team sport. It requires large groups of people to come together with an agenda and, like it or not, ours is a 2 party system by its very structure. People might want more parties but because of our winner take all election system (rather than a proportional representation system) we always have 2 parties. Again you can say all day long how much you don’t want a 2 party system but the systems incentive structure causes the formation of 2 major parties.
The following videos give the details of Duverger's Law as to why this is... (its critical to understand this!)
The result is that 3rd parties CAN’T get large support. One of the two major parties will simply adopt a 3rd parties ideas if a 3rd party gets large enough. Perhaps they will even change their name but in the end of the realignment there will still be 2 parties. This is a feature, not a bug. In parliamentary systems you get more parties but that also means that radical parties (like Nazi’s) actually will get representation. The 2 party system forces people toward the center politically because if you are outside the mainstream you will be rejected and never get any meaningful representation.
Take your ball and go home?
I get that some people may not like this. I think there is a good case to be made that we need election reform. However, it's like being upset that everyone is playing soccer when you want to play baseball. So some just want to take their ball and go home. Others say they don't care about winning or losing and just want to vote their conscience. However, the stakes of winning or losing are the difference between freedom and slavery, poverty and prosperity, human rights vs tyranny. How does your conscience feel about slavery, poverty and human rights abuse? Do you not have a moral obligation to do whatever it takes to stop that? This is not hyperbole. The political game is played over long periods of time and things change one inch at a time. Each election the ball moves a little closer or a little farther from the goal of a good, free and just society. So you better know how to play and you better play to win because this is not a small matter. Nearly every great atrocity in human history came about when the wrong people eventually won the game. To be unaware of the consequences of winning or losing the political contest is to simply be ignorant of history and the nature of the power of the state. Look no further than Korea to see how different things can be depending on who wins the game.
So in order to get anything done in our political system you basically have 3 options.
1) Work within the system (to win the game) so you can implement just policies.
2) Work Outside the system to subvert it.
3) Don’t participate and deal with the consequences.
Option 3 is a place for sheep and if you are reading this you probably are not a sheep and you want to make a difference in the world. Option 2 is actually a viable option if the rules of the game becomes so rigged against you it becomes the only viable solution. Jefferson said it best...
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. - The Declaration of Independence
However, I hope you are not at the point you want a revolution. Luckily, the US constitution has set forth an incredibly good and fair set of rules to play by and citizens of the United States are essentially those who have agreed to play by these rules. At the heart of being an American is an agreement to play by the rules of the constitution. No game every is without some bad calls and some imperfect rules but compared to other nations in history the American game is worth playing.
Time to vote!
Voting is when we actually take the field. Should this be a chance for us to grandstand as the other team scores again and again or is this the time for us to actually move the ball in the right direction?
This is the problem with voting 3rd party or sitting out because you don’t like the “lesser of two evils” problem.
Option A: 100 people get hurt
Option B: 20 people get hurt.
Option C: same result at option A
Option D: same result as option A
You may have various options but logically you only have 2 choices.
You may feel good about yourself going with option c or d, but that’s only because you are ignorant of what you really chose. A choice is ultimately judged by its consequences not its motives or how it makes you feel.
Which do value more, saving 80 people from harm ... or your feelings? What matters more, feeling good, or doing good? What is more important, how you feel about yourself or moving the ball in a positive direction even if that is just a few yards at a time?
The sad reality of politics is that you rarely get everything or even most things you want. But by supporting the right team and groups within that team you might get a few of the things you want and help move this nation in the right direction. In a democratic system with so many different agendas this is the best we can do. Working to make small gains is the job of a responsible citizen voter. This can be incredibly frustrating but that is a feature, not a bug. Our system is designed to grind things to a halt unless it has broad support. It forces people together into 2 parties and then forces the two parties to negotiate with each other in order to make anything happen.
Please know that this is not a plea to compromise on your values. Changing the values/culture which then changes politics is usually a long slow process that happens by the small actions and conversations between millions of people. Be part of that conversation. advocate hard and work to convince people to join your coalition of like minded people. However, don't ignore the reality of the political game and the reality that you won't ever get all you want. So take what you can get. Recognize that you live in a diverse nation with diverse interests and work pragmatically to make it better even if damage control is all you can do in a particular election cycle. Never apologize for being pragmatic when you vote. Doing as much good as we can is the ultimate end of voting even if it does not always feel good. The stakes are just too high.