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Why Is My Dad Mad: Outsider Candidate Edition

All votes matter, so be strategic with yours

Why is my dad mad?

I can’t help but notice you’re wearing a Jill Stein/Harambe 2016 t-shirt.

It’s a joke!

In more ways than Jill Stein herself realizes, probably. But that’s why your dad is mad: He thinks you’re going to vote for an outsider candidate, and thus will throw the election to —

He’s a Hillary Clinton supporter —

And that means he’s worried your vote will help throw the election to Donald Trump.

But I’m not voting for Trump!

Are you really going to vote for Stein? Or Gary Johnson? Or write in Harambe? Ken Bone? Are you planning on voting for someone other than Clinton?


You need to steel yourself for the possibility that your refusal to vote for Clinton will effectively prevent her from winning, and thus elect Trump. You will be morally culpable for electing Trump, even though you didn’t vote for him.

Wait, what?

Independent candidates splitting the sane-person vote and accidentally putting idiot bigots into office happens! Look at Maine, where a nice, boring Democrat lost 8 percent of the vote to an Independent in 2014 and the state wound up reelecting Paul LePage, an overt racist and boastful xenophobe. (He’s also a diehard Trump supporter, you’ll be shocked to learn.)

I shouldn’t have to choose the lesser of two evils.

Look, I get it. I do! You feel like the options at the head of the major party tickets are both unpalatable. You feel like neither of them represents you. You feel like voting for either Clinton or Trump would be a betrayal of your actual political beliefs. Or maybe you just want to absolve yourself of responsibility for electing either of them.

Yeah, and I’m just, you know, not excited about voting for Hillary.

Last time I checked, “excitement” was kind of low on the list of democratic values. You know what’s exciting? Cage matches. Hurricanes. Zombie apocalypses.

Are you making fun of me?

A little. But if you truly believe that Trump and Clinton are equally bad options, well, you can stop reading now. I won’t waste my time trying to change your mind. Plenty of other people have come up with rather pungent metaphors (raisins in cookies, shit sandwiches) illustrating the order-of-magnitude difference between Clinton’s conflicts of interest and Trump’s utter moral bankruptcy.

Is it that you realize that Trump is definitely worse than Clinton, but you still just don’t want to vote for her?

You’re on thin ice, but yeah, that’s about it.

OK. I really do get it. I was like you once! Back in the distant past (the year 2000), many progressive and liberal Americans believed that they, too, were saddled with two unacceptable choices: The Democratic candidate, Al Gore, was a ho-hum speaker who promised to continue the policies of a popular administration that nevertheless had turned its back on many progressive goals. The Republican candidate, George W. Bush, was derided by many as intellectually lazy and personally cruel. (Lol we thought we had it bad.)

And so I voted for a third-party candidate: Ralph Nader, a cranky, elderly populist who somehow filled stadiums with bright-eyed young supporters. (I won’t run these parallels into the ground, but, really ...) I don't feel guilty about it, unlike the scores of Florida voters whose orneriness probably threw that state, and therefore the electoral college, to Bush — who turned out to be not just another moderate Republican, but an uninformed dilettante whose lackeys concentrated power in the presidency, mainstreamed torture, and got America involved in a war that still hasn’t ended.

A third-party vote with a clean conscience! TELL ME YOUR SECRET.

I was a District of Columbia resident. Not only is Washington almost solidly blue (Gore wound up winning 85 percent to 9 — with 5 percent voting Green), but my vote barely counted anyway!


We’ll leave the disenfranchisement of D.C. for another time. The more relevant part of the story is that I was in a safe “blue” state — I could vote for Nader because a few thousand votes for him wouldn’t flip it. If you’re dying to vote for an outsider candidate, and you live in a state where either Trump or Clinton lead by over 10 points, feel free to register a protest vote with the knowledge that you’re not potentially dooming your fellow citizens to life in an authoritarian hellscape. You can check any number of sites for current polling averages (here, or here, or here). I’d encourage you to make a game-day decision on this.

But that doesn’t feel very ... protest-y. You’re basically saying, “Feel free to vote your conscience, so long as your vote doesn’t matter.”

#AllVotesMatter. Really. We wouldn’t be having this discussion otherwise. Running up the third- (and fourth-) party candidate votes in safe states does send the message that people are dissatisfied with their options. And though those votes won’t have an impact within our antiquated electoral college system, those outsider candidate votes in safe states will count toward a higher percentage of the national vote, which could encourage more people to run as third-party candidates in the future, and more coverage of them when they run.

How did that work out for Ralph Nader?

Ha. Well ... 2000’s experiment in promoting third-party candidates got distorted by the Florida recount. In fact, non-strategic voting by Nader supporters probably set back the cause of taking third-party candidates seriously! That’s another reason for you to consider voting strategically, rather than purely based on your “conscience.”

Though, tbqh, wouldn’t any vote that helped Trump bother your conscience the most?