Now that the conventions are over, the general election begins in earnest. A lot of people are saying that a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote. I want to say unequivocally and without reservation the only wasted vote is the vote that isn't cast.
When it comes to civic involvement, there isn't a person in our nation who cannot do more to make our society better. However, there is literally nothing less you can do than not voting.
Of two weeks of convention speeches, one moment perfectly captured my political philosophy, "Don't boo. Vote".
On the other hand, we're back at our quadrennial traditional "this time we're relevant" pantomime from third party candidates and their supporters.
Let me put it succinctly, I don't believe you.
And because it's me, less succinctly...
Third parties are the soccer of US politics. Every four years dedicated fans tell us this is the year that soccer/third parties are going to break through and become a force in American sports/politics. And nothing happens. Four years later we're hearing all the same arguments. The only difference is soccer is actually making progress.
Third parties are the French Resistance of US Politics. If everyone who says they support third parties actually worked for third parties and voted for third parties, third parties office holders would litter the landscape.
Right now, the Libertarian party holds 145 elected offices in the United State. The Green Party claims "over 100" office holders on its webpage, but only has 75 names. Out of about ~520,000 elected offices in the United States .04% are held by third party members.
But that's not really the whole story. According to their website, most of the Libertarian office holders, 102, are in "non-partisan offices", which means candidates have no party affiliation on the ballot, and generally campaign as individuals rather than as members of a party. Only 43 of their office holders got there as a Libertarian (and not even that's true, as we'll see later). The Greens do not have a similar breakdown, and I'm not going to go through the trouble of checking every elected Green official, but a brief look at the offices held would indicate the ratio is pretty close to 1:0.
But that's not really the whole story either. Of this .04% of all US office holders, four are members of State Legislatures: a State Senator in Utah, a member each of Nevada and New Hampshire's lower houses and a member of Nebraska's unique unicameral legislature. So now we're at .0007% of third party elected officials serve at the state level. Everyone else is at the municipal or county level. They're on school boards, water districts, city councils, plan commisions, etc.
But that's not really the whole story either. In Nebraska, the state legislature is elected in non partisan elections. The other three State Legislature members were elected, not as third party candidates, but as members of the Republican Party. They changed their party affiliations to Libertarian in the wake of the nomination of Donald Trump as Republican candidate for the presidency.
That's precisely 0 current office holders in state level offices who have been elected as third party candidates.
And here's the big problem. You people are doing nothing about it. I live in a very politically active neihborhood. We have candidates and their campaigns walking around here regularly. It's also an intensely Republican precinct. I don't know of a Democratic candidate who's taken this precinct at any level in the last 20 years. Yet, Democratic candidates who don't have a hope of winning their primary, much less the general election, show up on our porch to talk to us about their campaign. I've never seen a third party candidate or campaign on our streets.
The reason not to vote for third party presidential candidates is not because they can't win (they can't) but because they can't govern. They have absolutely no coalition to lead on any level. As far as I can tell, the single deliberative body with the most members of a third party in the entire country is the Crystal City, Minnesota City Council which has three Libertarian members, out of seven total members. Like most city councils in this country, their elections are nonpartisan.
Here's when I'll start believing you.
Get 1% of elected officials in the United States to claim third party membership. That's 5,200 people. And I'm carefully not saying elected as third party candidates to include the majority of elected officials in this country who are elected in non partisan elections. Also that includes partisan elected officials who change their allegiance once elected, an essential part of bringing a new party to power.
Take a US Congressional delegation. In Alaska, Deleware, Montana, Wyoming, Vermont and North and South Dakota that means electing two people. For those who need the statistics help, one out of 50 is 2% (and considering you can accomplish it with two elected officials, that's .4% of Congress).
Take a house at the state level. By "house" I mean a Senate, House or Governor's mansion. That's one out of 148 (remember that weird Nebraska legislature which is nonpartisan, so no party can control it), or .7% of the available targets.
Take a partisan city council of a major city (there aren't many of those, and I think your chances in Chicago are... distant).
Do something else. Anything else. Do something that isn't running for president and whining about why no one takes you seriously.
Despite all the brouhaha to the contrary, politics in the United States is not top down. It's bottom up. Nothing changes nationally until the states start to change. Nothing changes at the state level until the municipalities change. And nothing changes at the municipal level until a few dedicated people get off their asses and do something about it.
There's one thing you're right about. Elections in the US are not binary decisions. Unfortunately, you don't quite get what they are. Elections are singular decisions. There is only one President of the United States at a time. You are only reprsented by one member of the House at a time. You don't even get to vote for one of your Senators every two years. You get a choice two out of every three election. Every election chooses one candidate to do the work you need done, whether at the local, state or federal level.
That no third party currently has managed to elect a single seat at the table means that they are irrelevant no matter who is President or how well they do in Presidential elections.
Again, I'm not telling you what you should do. I'm telling you the results you're going to have to get to make me take you seriously. Perhaps that's not something you're actually interested in. That's ok. My feelings aren't hurt. But the fact that up to this point breaching 10% in any election more prominent than city council has been heralded as fantastic success for third party candidates, maybe my attitude represents a greater proportion of the electorate than you can afford to ignore.