Many people would like to believe in the power of the protest vote. The idea that the American electorate has the option to avoid choosing between two highly unpopular candidates by electing a third party candidate is picturesque. However, the electoral system’s institutional design effectively creates a two-party system, which in turn makes considering a third option for president entirely unrealistic. Perhaps this is a significant issue in the effectiveness of American democracy, but calling something a flaw does not make it less relevant: a vote cast for a third-party candidate is a vote wasted.
The problem with voting third party goes far beyond the fact that no candidate outside the two major parties can realistically win a presidential election. Although that point alone is a large strike against the merits of third party voting, a person could reasonably justify voting for a lost cause for the sake of acting based on values alone if they identify with that candidate strongly enough. The more severe problem, however, arises from an unfortunate but unavoidable side effect of this trend. Green Party voters, for example, whose values tend to align more closely with those of Democrats than those of Republicans, pull votes away from Democratic candidates, which results in Republican victories. Not only do those third party voters fail to elect their candidate, but they’ve also given more power to a major party that is far less likely to sympathize with their views. This is what makes voting for third party candidates worse than just useless—it is dangerous and counterproductive.
Millennials in particular seem to have a strong collective inclination to try to work around the system instead of within it, and it is a big part of the reason why politicians do not take our generation seriously. The ideas draw us in, but we lose interest when we are forced to acknowledge that those ideas are not always practical. The appeal of rallying to defy tradition is self-explanatory, but there is a reason that our two-party system has stayed in place for over two hundred years. We keep insisting on acting in a way that completely contradicts reason and practicality, and then we wonder why the results end up producing the opposite of our intended effect.
This is an especially relevant issue in the current election cycle because the Democratic presidential nominee polls significantly better when third party options are excluded. This can partially be attributed to the high numbers of former Bernie Sanders supporters with moral qualms against voting for Hillary Clinton who instead intend to throw their weight behind Jill Stein. While it is clearly well within their rights to support the candidate who aligns with their personal values most closely, these would-be Democrats must come to terms with the idea that in their case, a vote for Jill Stein might as well be a vote for Donald Trump.
There is no legitimate justification for casting a protest vote, because that decision is one that is almost always rooted in emotion rather than logic, and there is very little room for emotion in politics. There is a difference between acting in accordance to certain morals and acting with a complete disregard for the consequences. While it might feel like a personal achievement to ignore the rules of the game, the system wins every time, and casting a vote for a third party candidate is in no way a cause for pride. It is selfish, thoughtless, and a perfect example of why major parties do not make as much of an effort to cater to our age group as we might like—we are willing to make completely counterproductive moves solely for the sake of making a statement instead of making a real effort to accomplish anything.
With the possibility of Donald Trump as president, in this upcoming election it is more important than ever for every eligible person to cast a productive, meaningful vote. If liberals in particular are not willing to work within the system instead of against it, all we do is further the conservative cause, and that is something we should all work hard to avoid.