“Wasting My Vote”: Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Have you ever listened to the prog rock band Rush (or watched the movie I Love You, Man)?

You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will

-Rush, “Free Will,” Permanent Waves (1980)

Though I am not certain how Rush feels about the 2016 presidential election, I surmise that Neil, Alex, and Geddy are pretty dismayed at the prospect of Americans having to choose between an authoritarian Trump and a corrupt Clinton. Given their pretty demonstrative anti-collectivist lyrics, I bet they find it equally dismaying that so many people feel they have to go along with the default binary (i.e., choosing between either R or D) that our political system has become, rather than exercising the “free will” which Rush extols in the fantastic tune from which I just quoted. As such, I feel it’s fitting to quote them in this short rebuff of the oft-parroted but rarely-substantiated trope about how voting for anyone other than the two major-party options is “wasting a vote.”

If you do not want to vote for either Trump or Clinton in November but you nevertheless feel you have no other choice, I offer a few somewhat off-the-cuff thoughts to persuade you otherwise (also, read this).

  1. First, perhaps most importantly, we live in a representative republic whose health and vitality are contingent upon an informed citizenry exercising their best judgment by voting for the best candidates possible in an election. If you find yourself at the polls on election day flipping a coin to decide which distasteful alternative you will choose from, despite other candidates being on the ballot who you might vote for but-for the concern about a “wasted vote,” you should pause to consider what it means to be an American citizen with suffrage. In rare situations, I admit, casting a “strategic vote” rather than an ideal vote might be a better alternative – but I think these situations are incredibly rare, certainly so in any case for individuals residing in the thirty-nine (or so) states that are never seriously up for grabs in an election.
  2. On that note, unless you live in one of the handful of swing states that could actually go either way in a general election, your single vote will not matter, period. As such, choosing between the “lesser of two evils” means you are choosing one of those two “evils” for no good reason.
  3. Voting for one of the two major party candidates in a presidential election usually means that you cast one vote among a few dozen million cast for that individual. Voting for a third party candidate, on the other hand, usually means that you cast one vote among a few million cast for that individual. As a matter of mathematics, your vote matters more as one of a few million than as one of a few dozen million. In a system where alternative candidates are all but shut out of the politico-media complex if they do not perform well nationally, that one vote could make a huge difference in helping establish a consistent, viable alternative to either of the two major parties.
  4. Partisan electoral politics functions in large part off of a host of assumptions about whose votes are “guarantees” versus whose are up for grabs. What this regularly translates to are the two major parties neglecting their guaranteed supporters (or paying lipservice to them with little action to follow, solely in order to ensure good turnout) because those supporters will predictably fall in line behind whoever happens to have the right letter after their name, regardless of how those supporters actually feel about the candidate in question. One of the clearest ways to send a signal to either of the parties is for individuals considered “core” support to defect from that candidate en masse in the election. It signals to the party that they cannot ignore these groups and their concerns, as they will face defeat and possible extinction if they do not respond in subsequent years by re-tailoring their platform.
  5. Your conscience matters. Are you normally in the habit of thinking that following your conscience is a “waste”? If you do not feel this way at work, at home, in relationships, etc., then why do you feel this way in the voting booth?

No one should ever feel like they are stuck choosing between or among candidates they do not like, regardless of the election. The reason why that happens all too often is that the myth of the wasted vote becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – we only have two viable options because we only ever choose between them, despite other choices being available.

What is true in markets generally is true in the “electoral market” as well. Suppliers are responsive to consumer preferences. If consumers are only ever choosing between, say, two different types of mediocre hamburgers from two different restaurants – despite a large swath of these same consumers really hoping for a burrito available from a restaurant down the road – the burrito shop will close up for lack of customers and the hamburger joints will not change their business model because they think they are giving the consumers what they want.

Stop feeding this system if you are legitimately tired of it. Vote your conscience, even if it means voting third party, and you will never have wasted your vote. Vote for Clintrump (or Trumpton, if you prefer) in 2016 because you feel like choosing someone else will be a “wasted vote,” and you manage to do the very thing you fear.

Gary Johnson (2)

Might I venture a suggestion for your consideration?

One comment

  1. […] written elsewhere why I think that that’s a bad way of thinking about it given we have more than two options, but that’s neither here nor there at the moment. What I want to address at present is the […]

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