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The Myth of the Wasted Vote: Why a Third-Party Vote May Be the Answer

Shannon is a social worker, counselor, avid traveler, scuba diver, adventurer, and mom.

What is a wasted vote?

What is a wasted vote?

Is Voting for a Third-Party a Wasted Vote?

As someone who has voted more times for third-party candidates than major-party candidates, I'm all too familiar with the myth of the “wasted vote." It's one of the most frustrating phrases any third-party proponent can hear. It's also a false assertion. First, no vote that you cast is a waste, period. It is you exercising your right to have your say in what you believe the country should be and who your leaders should be. Second, if everyone who wanted to vote for a third party didn’t because it was a “waste of a vote,” I genuinely believe that the 2016 election would have turned out very differently. For that matter, elections since 2003 may have turned out differently.

Gallup has been conducting polls regarding the need for a third party since 2003. In almost all of the polls, more than half of the adults surveyed reported they thought there was a need for a third party because the current system is failing to represent the people. In September of 2017, the poll yielded its highest percentage in the history of the poll. 61% of US adults reported that they felt a third party was needed. This spanned across both parties and independents; 77 percent of Independents, 49 percent of Republicans, and 52 percent of Democrats favored a third party. In 2015, prior to the last presidential election, 57% of Americans reported a need for a third party. However, third-party votes constituted only 4.9% of the total votes.

Gallup Polls Regarding the Need for a Third Party

These percentages represent responses indicating a third party was needed when asked, "In Your View, do the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job of representing the people, or do they do such a poor job that a third major party is nee

YearAll PartiesDemocratsRepublicansIndependents




































My Experience

In 2016, many believed we were given an option of two flawed candidates. An unprecedented number of people did not like either choice. Many people vote “against” a candidate instead of in favor of one. When I cast my vote in 2016, I voted for someone I believed in. I refused to cast a vote for the “lesser of two evils,” so my vote was not "wasted.” Many people I spoke with supported the Libertarian ideals and candidate but chose to vote for one of the two major party candidates anyway. They did this because they believed a third-party candidate could not win. As long as this continues to be a standard of thinking, this will remain true. This attitude is self-defeating. There is clearly a majority desire to have a third party. The issue appears to be that people do not put their vote where their mouth is. The theory of the “wasted vote” is not backed up by polling.


Third Party: The True Protest Vote

Others I spoke with told me that they voted for Donald Trump because he was “different,” an “outsider,” and they were tired of the same old politics. They didn’t feel that the current system was working and wanted change. Many made it clear that they were not “big fans” of Trump, but that they wanted to “shake up” the political system. They considered a vote for Trump a protest vote. When I asked them why they would vote for someone they didn’t agree with (or even like) just as a “protest,” they stated that “sending a message” was worth voting for Trump.

I continually asserted (and continue to assert) that the true “protest” vote is a third-party vote. Voting for an undesirable candidate that is running under one of the two major parties only proved to uphold, if not inflame, partisan politics under Trump. He has remained partisan and has even embraced some of the farthest right “fringe” philosophies. Although Trump may not actually hold all of these beliefs himself, as most recently evidenced by his continual shifts on DACA, he tows the party line. He hasn’t delivered on being someone who would defy his party to reach across the aisle. The only real defiance of his party was to attack those who he perceived as attacking him personally or did not fall in line with the party position. This has not translated into policy defiance.

If the American people want to send a message to the two parties, they should send a big one. The Libertarian party received a record number of votes in 2016. I believe that is because people understood the concept of changing the status quo by throwing someone into the mix that was not part of the current partisan politics in any way. What would the House and Senate look like if there were not only two sides, but instead, there were three, four, or more parties? The “aisle” would no longer exist to reach across. The room would no longer be divided in two. The unproductive bickering between the two parties may be best remedied by putting people in office who don't belong on either side of the room.

Do you recognize these candidates? If not, ask yourself why.

Do you recognize these candidates? If not, ask yourself why.

What Do Third Parties Believe In?

My third party of choice is the Libertarian Party because their platform aligns most closely with my individual beliefs and philosophies. They also hold views that both Republicans and Democrats can agree with. The platform is conservative on some issues and liberal on others. They truly do straddle the aisle. They would be able to make deals that both parties could agree with or gain support on some legislation from one side and other legislation from the other. In my view, a Libertarian leadership creates a situation where partisan politics start to fade out, and the government starts working again. They’re also the third largest political party, so they have a bit of a leg up in gaining recognition and votes.

That said, there are many third parties, some larger than others. Given the state of the current Republican party, I expect to see Republicans branching out as Independents or creating new political parties. Although I discuss Libertarians here, any third party will accomplish the same task. Jill Stein, of the Green Party, also gained some recognition and a share of the votes in 2016. Although Bernie Sanders participated as a Democrat, he generally identifies as a third party or Independent. The Green Party tends to meld into the Democratic Party, but it remains an independent third party.

What Can You Do to Help Third-Party Candidates?

If you do explore a third party and find that this is a good option for the future, there are some things that need to be done. For example, third-party candidates have to contend with a system that is rigged against them. They are not allowed to participate in televised debates with Republicans and Democrats without jumping through almost impossible hoops. Since they do not have a place on the national stage in the same way that the two major parties do, they also have to struggle to get their names on the ballots, gain recognition, get their message out and garner support. This needs desperately to be reformed. The American people deserve access to all of our choices. Third-party candidates deserve to be heard in debates with the major party candidates.

If you find yourself with an opportunity to advocate for these reforms, do it. If you want to get started, contact the Federal Election Commission and the Commission on Presidential Debates to encourage them to make changes to campaign finance, ballot access, and debate rules to end strict restrictions on third-party candidates. You can also encourage media to cover third-party candidates as thoroughly as the major party candidates to allow them more exposure.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.