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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.

Isn't a Third Party Vote Just 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, but 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




































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.


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.

How about now?

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.


Joalho on July 02, 2020:

Thanks for the article. A wasted vote is any vote made for someone you don't like.

I do not believe that libertarians straddle the aisle. That would imply that they are moderate between the two major parties. Libertarians much more fiscally conservative than republicans and much more socially liberal than democrats. Both major parties seek collective solutions thru government whereas libertarians seek solutions thru the individual.

Erin on June 12, 2020:

Thank you so much for this article. Posting on FB right now!

shancontented (author) from Someplace, Somewhere on October 26, 2018:

FYI: The below "shancontended" with no pic is not me. I am the author. I have a profile that can be clicked to verify this is my content.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on October 24, 2018:

"The two independent party candidates in 2016 were bad" - That's just your opinion. You are entitled to your opinion but others may not agree with You.

"A vote for a third party is not only a wasted vote it allows results in an election that is not real." - Not real? You know what's not real? When the popular vote was won by Al Gore but Bush got to be president. That's "not real". Or, when Hillary won the popular vote and Trump became president. That's "not real". Someone voting for those who support their beliefs, even if they are part of a third party - that's real!

"I really think it is a weak argument when an author tries to dis someone making a comment. As you see from the number of comments." - Not sure what the meaning behind those two sentences was. They don't make sense.

Last commenter went off-roading and this is not the place to go off-roading. Thus, I felt like saying something lol

All the best to everyone!

shancontended on October 23, 2018:

I didn't miss the point of your article, no point was made.

The two independent party candidates in 2016 were bad, and Trump wasn't the part of the evil because to be part of the evil you had to be part of the government.

I really think it is a weak argument when an author tries to dis someone making a comment. As you see from the number of comments.

There was no coming across the aisle in 2016's presidential win. From the election campaign till today, the left has resisted in toto and they have put a wall on the aisle.

A vote for a third party is not only a wasted vote it allows results in an election that is not real. Look at what Perot did when he ran, it was a catastrophic.

Valerie Taylor on October 23, 2018:

I don't believe that most independent or third-party votes are wasted at all, but there are times when an independent voter should make a reasoned decision to support a major-party candidate, even one they hate. If your district or state has never elected a candidates from both parties, by all means vote independent for your legislators. If you truly would be flipping a coin between the major-party candidates, vote independent. But in a presidential race consider whether your major-party choice is between a person whose policies you hate but who is basically a flawed-within-normal-paramenters person vs. a person who is completely unqualified by temperament, by understanding, and by experience, whose flaws are absolutely outside the realm of the normal, and who has the potential to do irreparable harm.

And for those who think this outcome has 'shaken up' the system and 'awakened' people, let's see what happens in the next 2-4 years before we make that determination.

shancontented (author) from Someplace, Somewhere on February 04, 2018:

Ive made the same sort of point about there being some good things about Trump being so bad. Another, for me, is that it exposed the size of the people in America who still hold such racist/sexist, etc views. It certainly got these issues out in the open for discussion.

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on February 04, 2018:

"First, no vote that you cast is a waste, period." - Regarding the electoral process, the "first-past-the-post" system does actually "waste" votes. So, think of it this way: in each congressional district, there are people voting for many different parties yet, in the end only those who voted for the winner, will have their votes heard nationally. The people who voted for the second, or third, or fourth candidate have absolutely no say after coming in second, or third, or forth. That's how a "first-past-the-post" system works: each district ends-up with one winner and many losers.

Now, keep in mind that this electoral system originated in Great Britain and was administered to all its colonies. From all the former colonies it is only Canada, the United States and India who still adhere to this system. The others, as most of the rest of the world have electoral systems based on proportional representation: one vote - one count. This is done nationally so, no votes get dismissed in any riding. They are all counted and become part of the national percentage.

Wow, I veered-off there lol Just wanted to explain how votes are indeed "wasted" in a way in a "first-past-the-post" electoral system. Not by voting for third, or fourth party member though. That's not a waste in my opinion.

I refused to cast a vote for the “lesser of two evils” so my vote was “not wasted.” - I've done this many times and the vote is not wasted because if the values You strive for, are represented by a third party then, that is who You should support. The party needs You as much as You need the party and even more so when it is a smaller party which needs to grow. Any support from people, whether it is in form of donations, or volunteer work, is very important.

"They considered a vote for Trump a protest vote" - In a macabre sort of way I am happy Trump won. The political system was broken already and with Mr. Orangutan-in-Chief in the Oval Office, he is making things so terribly bad that people are actually starting to wake up and get involved. That's the good story at the end of all this chaos and nonsense.

"What would the House and Senate look like if there were not only two sides, but instead, there were three, four, or more parties?" - This is why I brought-up the "proportional representation" type of electoral system. In that case there are many more parties and often coalitions need to be made. It's not a "my way, or the highway" thing. People actually need to talk to each other, make compromises and so on. I think it is a more civil way of doing things, in my opinion. As well it is a more democratic system in which all voices get to be heard.

Great article and an important topic of discussion! Thank You for writing and keep at it - cheers!

shancontented (author) from Someplace, Somewhere on February 03, 2018:

Lol. Hi Brad. I don't delete comments unless they're spam or extremely personal.

Thanks for reading. I have no idea how you managed to interject Trump love into this. Hahaha. I agree with you though. He should have run as an independent. I think he'd also have more freedom to govern as he wanted without having to tow the line too. He would probably be a better President if he could. I think he has moderate views on some issues but gets pulled back by his staff.

As far as your other points... I think you missed the entire point of my article. Maybe that's my writing. Maybe not. Anyway, hi!

Brad on February 03, 2018:

It is no myth, history shows that all the votes for third parties have lost choosing a president, and rare at choosing a congressmen.

The reason why it isn't a myth is that in order for an independent party to get any traction, it needs to a good platform and good candidates.

For example, I think that Donald Trump would have made a good independent. He really wasn't liked by either the democrats or the republicans.

And looking at how Ross Perot did in the 1992 election against Bush sr, and Clinton winning twenty million votes was excellent out of one hundred and four million votes.

Donald Trump had a better message than did Perot.

William Clinton Albert Gore Jr. Democratic 44,909,806 43.01% 370 68.8%

George Bush J. Danforth Quayle Republican 39,104,550 37.45% 168 31.2%

H. Ross Perot James Stockdale Independent 19,743,821 18.91% 0 0.0%

Trump also had a better VP than Stockdale.

Remember that while Bernie Sander won his senate seat as an independent, he ran for the presidency as a democrat.

The votes are wasted because they don't pick the winner, they only take away from one of the democrat or republican candidates.

del if u wish

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