With only 54 days until the 2020 election, tensions around the country are running at an all-time high. There is a lot at stake for a large number of people, and not many are exactly thrilled with the choices America’s two-party system has allotted them. This said, I am here as a voter and as a citizen to ask you — scratch that — remind you that voting third party is not a choice that is bound to help you or your fellow citizens.
Look, I am a sucker for democracy and personal freedom. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Count me in. How important do I think the right to free speech is? I am furiously typing on my whirring, overheated Dell to post an op-ed in a student-run newspaper. That is as first amendment as it gets.
The United States simultaneously exists as a democracy and a republic and hosts a two-party system that has gotten progressively more partisan as time progresses. (Sorry George Washington!) While the two-party system structure was not so rigid a century ago when there was a healthy mix of conservative democrats and liberal republicans, today’s political climate is much different. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “The American two-party system was a pseudo-two-party system, because each party provided only a loose framework within which shifting coalitions were formed.”
This is not to say that minority parties or aisle reaching are obsolete ideas. The Libertarian Party, for example, pulled 3.3% of the popular vote in the 2016 Presidential election according to Ballotpedia. Today, if I stopped someone on the street and asked them who the Libertarian candidate is for the 2020 Presidential election, my answer would be handed to me in the form of a quizzical look and a head tilt. I say this with confidence because I experienced this exact situation firsthand when I asked my three suitemates if they knew who Jo Jorgensen was. Their furrowing brows were answer enough.
While scoring 3.3% of the popular vote was unprecedented in 2016, it was still too little to make any real difference in terms of garnering support from a national audience. In order for a third-party candidate to participate in the presidential debates, they must “have support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations”, as stated by The Commission on Presidential Debates.
If the only reason you want to vote third party is to stroke your ego… know that you can write my name in for President and make the same splash.”
In addition to this, third-party candidates must pull 5% of the popular vote in order to be considered for public funding in the following race. For example, if Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received 5% of the public’s vote in 2016, the Libertarian party would have been eligible for public funding in this year’s presidential cycle. But even with the highest national support third party candidates have ever seen, the 5% mark was not met, and the Democratic and Republican parties continued to dominate the field.
The sad truth of the matter is that the Libertarian and Green parties were only as popular during the 2016 election as they were because the Democratic and Republican parties themselves were so disliked. While Dems and the GOP are still not exactly swooned over, polling from FiveThirtyEight shows that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is scoring above where 2016 candidate Hillary Clinton was at this time four years ago. To be completely blunt, this makes the argument for voting third party even weaker. There is virtually no chance for a third-party candidate to gather even a fraction of the support they need to make any true difference this election cycle. If the only reason you want to vote third party is to stroke your ego or humblebrag on Twitter about how moral you are, please know that you can write my name in for President and make the same splash.
I am not writing this article to bash third-party ideologies. I know that it is healthy to question tradition and act progressively. But I also recognize that in order to secure true cooperation and understanding among this country’s diverse population we need to act, and we need to act together. A vote third party is a vote for Trump. Refusing to vote is a vote for Trump. And looking at the current state of our country and our country’s relation to the rest of the world, that is the last thing we need.