I’m not actually going to tell anybody who to vote for. But I have been thinking a lot lately about wasted votes and wanted to share my thoughts on what renders a vote wasted or not. This whole matter became very real to me at the last presidential election, when I didn’t especially like either major-party candidate and considered voting third-party just to make a statement. People who did just this helped put George W. Bush in office by a very small margin. The matter’s very real to me again, as once again, I don’t especially like either candidate.
Because my political leanings are distinctly Libertarian (with a pragmatic twist), I have a strong urge to vote Libertarian. The problem, of course, is that there’s absolutely no way the Libertarian candidate is going to win. (I was talking to a conservative-leaning co-worker yesterday who thought Nader was the Libertarian candidate, for crying out loud and so was going to vote for Bush on the basis of his fiscal “conservatism.”) There’s a common perception that voting for somebody who can’t win constitutes wasting your vote. I would argue that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.
For me to vote on a third-party candidate, however strongly my views are aligned with those of the party, would be for me to waste my vote because I have a strong preference for one of the major-party candidates over the other. I don’t especially like Kerry, but I dislike Bush. Specifically, I dislike Bush’s stance on civil liberties, which are more important to me than fiscal policy or even whether or not we’re at war. I’m not convinced that Kerry’s even on the wholly right track with regard to civil liberties, but he’s less likely to appoint justices who would abridge civil liberties for decades to come, and he’s generally in closer alignment with me than Bush is. Because I differentiate between the two candidates, I have a stake in trying to make sure the lesser of the two doesn’t win the election. So I have to cast my vote for Kerry to keep Bush out or consider my vote wasted.
Some of my more staunchly Libertarian friends have a different angle, though. They view Bush and Kerry as equally dismal alternatives, Bush for his social policy and Kerry for his fiscal policy. In this case, I think voting for a third-party candidate is a valid choice. Doing so stands to sway the future of politics (however slightly) toward the third-party views in question by forcing major-party candidates to consider a growing minority of voters not in line with the mainstream views. In other words, the more people who vote Libertarian, the more mainstream politicians will have to appeal to the Libertarian view. Thus a vote for the Libertarian party, when the Republican and Democratic candidates are sincerely viewed to be equally bad alternatives, is not a wasted vote.