Election 2020

You Don't Have to Vote for Your Party's Crappy Ticket

At least 100 million Americans live in states where the presidential winner is a foregone conclusion. Maybe don't reward your party for nominating candidates you don't like?


You don't have to strain your imagination to come up with reasons why some (though definitely not most!) Democrats might be less than enthused by vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) or by ol' whatshisface at the top of the ticket. In a year where criminal justice reform is at or near the front of many progressive agendas, the Dems are pairing California's self-styled former "top cop" with a guy who once bragged that "every major crime bill since 1976 that's come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the State of Delaware: Joe Biden."

And yet, like so many Republican voters who claim to be appalled by the behavior of President Donald Trump, these Democrats will, if they vote, overwhelmingly hold their noses and support a home team that has yet again put forth a less-than-ideal ticket. This despite the fact that so many voters live in states where the 2020 outcome is a foregone conclusion.

How dare anyone make such a confident claim after the projections-shattering debacle of 2016? Here's how:

In each of the past seven presidential elections, Democratic nominees have won by double-digit margins in California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island. The closest Donald Trump came in any of them last time around was within 16 percentage points in Rhode Island. If you change the margin-of-victory parameters from 10 percentage points to eight, you can also include Hawaii (which was +32 for Hillary Clinton in 2016) and Biden's home state of Delaware (+11).

That's a combined 90 million people, 142 electoral college votes, and zero chance of Trump winning, barring belated arrival of the Sweet Meteor O'Death.

Some Democratic residents of these states (and also some non-Democrats who despise Trump and Trumpism) will want to run up the score against the incumbent. But for the subset who don't, and are disgruntled about their own side's offering, yet anxious about even the remote possibility of losing, I'm here to tell you that FiveThirtyEight's projection model puts Trump's chances of winning in each of these states at less than 1 percent.

What about red states in tough Republican year? FiveThirtyEight gives Biden the less-than-1-percent-chance treatment in four: Oklahoma, West Virginia, Idaho, and Wyoming. Trump won each of these states by at least 32 percentage points in 2016. That's another eight million people and 19 electoral votes off the table.

Other states that hold the distinction of A) voting Republican in every presidential election since Reason was founded 52 years ago, B) going GOP by at least nine percentage points every contest this century, and C) preferring Trump last time by 15+ percentage points, include: Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Alaska. The Klondike State is notoriously unpredictable and is showing some support for Biden, but FiveThirtyEight gives the other five a chance of between just 2 percent and 8 percent of going rogue. That's another 10 million people and 25 electoral votes.

Why point out that so much of the electoral map remains stubbornly non-competitive? Partly, it is true, to stick up for that much-reviled cohort I happen belong to: self-described independents, who remain the largest bloc on the political spectrum. And yes, I prefer more political competition to the two major parties, because they don't come close to representing my political views, and also I am a bit weird.

But the main motivation here is to encourage my depressed partisan friends to use political literacy and what tiny leverage they have to produce more gratifying results.

Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. If you reward your party for nominating people you don't like, chances are very likely that will happen again, sooner rather than later. There is a contradiction in complaining that two-party choices seem to get worse every four years while still voting reliably for one of those choices.

So: Dissatisfied Bernie-bro environmentalist types in California and New York—kick the tires on Green Party nominee Howie "I invented the Green New Deal" Hawkins! Utah Mormons sickened by Trump's boorishness: Libertarian Jo Jorgensen is a nice lady!

Just because you despise a major-party presidential nominee—trust me, I know the feeling—that doesn't mean your choice is limited to supporting his or her major-party opponent. Using your vote strategically in states where the outcome is certain gives you at least the remote possibility of positively influencing your own team's future behavior.

And who knows—if you stop despising your own nominees, maybe one day I will too.