James Birney did it in 1844. Theodore Roosevelt did it in 1912. George Wallace in 1968, Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000.
That’s right, all five third-party candidates split the presidential vote and denied victory to a candidate who otherwise would have won.
Distaste for the American two-party political system is nothing new — the winner-takes-all electoral system has proven success nearly impossible as an independent or third-party candidate. Despite many citizens’ desire for change, the system has caused countless voters to consider a third-party or independent candidate to be a “wasted vote” — but this is far from true.
Between Donald Trump’s frequent toddler-esque temper tantrums and the media’s painting of Hillary Clinton as a crooked liar, it is no surprise numerous Americans have looked toward a third-party candidate in a frantic frenzy for stability. Perhaps a vote for either Trump or Clinton would serve as nothing more than an obligatory choice between the “lesser of two evils,” hence why some voters prefer to vote third-party than refrain entirely.
Although the optimism many voters possess in regard to changing the two-party system is admirable, it is imperative we consider the consequence of voting third-party — especially with this election year.
The bottom line: A vote for a third-party or independent candidate is not a wasted vote, but rather holds the potential to skew the entire 2016 presidential election.
When included on the ballot, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green party candidate Jill Stein pull more votes from Clinton than Trump, according to studies conducted by FiveThirtyEight. If this forecast proves accurate, voters who ultimately vote for Johnson or Stein over Clinton could unintentionally act as a catalyst for Trump’s success.
In 2000, Green party nominee Ralph Nader split Democrat Al Gore’s votes, allowing Republican George W. Bush to win the presidential election by a mere 537 votes in Florida.
A study conducted in 2001 by political scientist Gerald Pomper of Rutgers University found “approximately half (47 percent) of the Nader voters said they would choose Gore in a two-man race, a fifth (21 percent) would choose Bush, and a third (32 percent) would not vote.”
With Green party candidate Nader out of the picture, it is very likely Bush, whose approval rating plummeted to 25 percent at it’s lowest point during his presidency, would have never been elected.
To put that into perspective, Bush’s lowest approval rating ranks at only one percentage point above impeached Richard Nixon’s lowest approval rating, according to data taken from analytic organization Gallup.
If the 2016 election follows in the footsteps of the turn of the century, Johnson and Stein supporters could inadvertently land Trump in the oval office.
Stein poses as a lesser threat to Clinton’s campaign a Johnson, predicted to secure only 2.4 percent of the vote on election day, according to Vox. Johnson, on the other hand, is expected to secure 7.1 percent of the vote — the highest of any third-party candidate in the 21st century. Combined, this makes the slim difference between Clinton and Trump even more marginal.
Johnson, however, has not proven himself worthy of presidential office.
In an interview with Johnson, MSNBC’s Mike Barnicle, asked what Johnson would do in regard to Aleppo, the epicenter of Syria’s refugee crisis and civil war if elected to office. Johnson was at a loss for words, responding to Barnicle with a perplexed facial expression. “What is Aleppo?” Johnson asked.
As a candidate running for presidential office, the inability to identify a foreign city in turmoil to the extent Aleppo is suffering is inexcusable. The Syrian refugee crisis has been a highly controversial topic in American politics for months and Johnson’s lack of knowledge on the subject is beyond concerning.
After the MSNBC interview shed light on Johnson’s apparent unpreparedness, many voters felt as though Johnson should be given some slack for what they considered to be a slip-up. At a later interview with MSNBC, host Chris Matthews asked Johnson to name and discuss his favorite foreign leader.
“I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson said, unable to name a single foreign leader from any country across the globe.
Both of Johnson’s “Aleppo moments” validate the Libertarian candidate is neither prepared nor deserving of presidential office. As foreign affairs continue to play a major role in American politics, Johnson’s lack of preparedness and knowledge is unacceptable.
At the end of the day, Johnson supporters must ask themselves if a vote for Johnson (and his subpar knowledge of foreign affairs) is worth handing Trump the presidency.
It is no longer a question of “voting with conscience’ nor optimism, but boils down to the hard truth: Johnson’s 7.1 percent nor Stein’s 2.4 percent stand a chance of victory in this election. However, a vote for either candidate could be exactly what Trump needs to get his greedy, orange little hands on a four-year term.
Eleanor is a junior print journalism and philosophy double major with a concentration in ethics and public policy. She often writes about issues of social justice and human rights, and her dream career would include traveling the world as a documentary filmmaker. You can usually find Eleanor binge watching an entire television series in one night or planning her next backpacking trip.
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