The Third Party Myth

By Brandon Mioduszewski
June 5, 2019

Third-party votes have often been a point of contention – especially during election season. As the 2020 elections begin to rev into action, classic questions will be re-visited; are third party votes wasteful? Do third parties uselessly divide the American electorate?

The answer is no.

During the heated 2016 election, both sides of the political aisle criticized third party voters. Bill Galvin, the Massachusetts Secretary of State was cited by Politico in 2016 saying that voters should not “waste their vote on a third party candidate or fourth party candidate or a protest vote.” Referencing history, Galvin claims that races such as Bush v. Gore could have ended differently without third party candidates interfering. This was seemingly the case in 2000 when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader split Gore voters on the side of the Democrats.

Third party underdog candidates are not a new phenomenon – in fact, they are a staple of American politics. Whether it be Theodore Roosevelt running as a Progressive in 1912, or Gary Johnson running as a Libertarian in 2016, third party candidates have had a continuous presence in American elections. Some have made more of a splash than others – for example, in 1992 Independent candidate, Ross Perot, earned nearly a fifth of the popular vote. Perot showed that third party candidates can make a difference; they just have to jump through many more hurdles.

However, third party candidates have not won a state since 1968, when George Wallace of the Independent Party was able to win the southern states of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The American two-party system has grown stronger since then, creating fewer opportunities for third parties to be successful in general elections, especially at the presidential level.

Voting for a third party is a way Americans defend what they believe in. Although it is unrealistic for a third party candidate to win a major American election, they can shift the political agenda in a way which favors their party. For example, some may argue that Ralph Nader’s mildly successful Green Party run in 2000 led to a larger focus on climate change by the Democratic party in an attempt to garner more voters. Third parties can raise awareness of issues that the American people deem important.

As 2020 approaches, voters will once again decide which candidate to support, and questions will arise once again regarding the idea of wasted votes. Truly, the idea of a ‘wasted vote’ is a myth. Vote for what you believe in and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – that is the Libertarian mindset, after all.

Works Cited & Additional Reading