Free Minds & Free Markets

Voting Third Party Isn’t Just a Serious Choice, It’s the Serious Choice

How bad can major party candidates get? We’re finding out now, but we can do better.

This year, the likely presidential candidates of the major political parties are two of the less savory individuals ever to run for office in a country whose Wikipedia entry doesn't feature periods of military rule. The Republicans seem poised to give us a crony capitalist who admires authoritarian foreign governments, views constitutional safeguards with contempt, and encourages his followers to stomp opponents. The Democrats are ready to coronate an authoritarian former secretary of state who fairly reeks of influence-peddling and is the subject of an FBI probe into the mishandling of classified information that passed through a private email server she set up to avoid freedom of information inquiries.

Yet Americans are urged to pick between these two candidates as the only two "serious" options for occupying the White House. We're told by frantic partisans that voting for a presidential candidate running on another political party's line or as an independent is really a vote for whichever of the two leading candidates the speaker finds more terrifying.

That's a particular concern for Republicans this year, since Donald Trump has not only tenuous connections to their party and its supposed ideas, but also an antagonistic relationship with the norms of a functioning liberal democracy. Democrats, too, are urged to rally around Hillary Clinton, despite widespread perceptions that she can't be trusted to tell the time of day unless a few minutes are kicked back, let alone to break a twenty without pocketing a couple of bucks.

Yes, it's true, that neither Trump nor Clinton have technically locked up their nominations. Either or both could lose the prize to a rival.

But Clinton's only remaining opponent is Bernie Sanders, a life-long socialist and independent who entered the Democratic race as a matter of convenience. Sanders doesn't seem aware that his frequently touted "socialist" model, Denmark, is actually a welfare state sustained (barely) by being grafted on to a market economy ranked comparably with that of United States in terms of economic freedom. Perhaps his cluelessness is a saving grace, explaining how he's the closest thing to a civil libertarian (and foreign noninterventionist) still aspiring for a major party nomination, despite his attaboy fandom for bread lines and press censorship in truly socialist countries.

The Republicans have a more fundamental problem even if they head off a Trump coronation. The party is ideologically adrift and alienated from its grassroots, making it a natural target for a thuggish demagogue in need of a vehicle. "He's not the cause of a GOP implosion," Reason's Nick Gillespie recently noted of Trump, "but the final effect of an intellectual and political hollowing-out of any semblance of commitment to limited government, individual rights, and free markets."

Even if the GOP successfully resists the current takeover attempt through a desperate surge for Ted Cruz or a contested convention that sees the candidacy wrested away from the popular choice by party elders, it has thoroughly disappointed its base and is held in roughly the same esteem as a nasty rash by younger Americans. Regaining credibility and scraping the tarnish off that brand is going to be a long-term project—if it's even worth the effort.

"The state of the Republicans is particularly parlous," The Economist recognizes. "But the contradictions among Democrats, though less obvious, also run deep." But parties have morphed and transformed before in our country and in others—The Economist goes on to point out that America's two major parties have effectively swapped positions on some important issues over their histories.

Parties have also disappeared. The Republican Party famously replaced the Whig Party in the U.S. after the earlier organization failed to come to terms with the slavery issue. In our neighbor to the north, grassroots disappointment with the Progressive Conservatives, who held a majority in Canada's parliament as recently as the early 1990s, led an insurgent party to rise and replace that organization on the center-right of the country's politics. The new Conservative Party absorbed its predecessor's shriveled remains and held the prime minister's office from 2006-2015.

Whether the Republican Party–and possibly the Democratic Party—are in the process of transforming or collapsing, looking elsewhere for political options just makes good sense. At least until the wreckage has settled.

And it's not as if there are no credible options even as far up the ballot as the presidential line.

Just in terms of political credentials (and yes, there's plenty more to consider), the major parties have no special advantages. In 2008, when the Democrats successfully ran a first-term U.S. senator for the presidency, the Green Party offered Cynthia McKinney, a former six-term member of the House of Representatives, while the Libertarians nominated Bob Barr, a four-term occupant of the same body. 

In 2012, the Constitution Party ran six-term former U.S. representative Virgil Goode, while the Libertarians nominated Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico.

Johnson is likely to represent the Libertarian Party again this year against Clinton, Trump, and other hopefuls. A successful entrepreneur before gaining executive-office governing experience, Johnson might actually strike a foreign political correspondent unfamiliar with the American aversion to voting for anybody not affiliated with the letters "R" or "D" as the most qualified candidate in the race.

During past election cycles, most Americans accepted that aversion and let themselves be shamed out of voting for a "spoiler" who could only throw the election to the more awful major party candidate.

But Democrats and Republicans seem locked in a downward spiral, shedding any pretense of honesty or ideological coherence while taunting voters with the knowledge that they can be induced to vote "D" or "R" anyway, even if the parties run, well, a thug against a crook. It's easy to believe that, if technology allowed, party apparatchiks would set undead Mussolini against zombie Capone, just to laugh and laugh as we argued over their relative merits.

But there's no actual obligation to play into that horrible choice. The major political parties have outlived their sell-by dates and grown corrupt, unresponsive, and complacent. They've turned into hollowed-out vehicles to be hijacked by populist demagogues when not being ridden to office by sticky-fingered functionaries. The Republicans are in worse shape than the Democrats, but only in relative terms.

Which is to say, until they reform or die, the major parties are no longer serious choices. Their train-wreck presidential nomination races offer clear evidence to anybody who hasn't drunk the major party Kool-Aid that it's time to look elsewhere for real ideas and credible candidates for political office.

It's time to admit that, in 2016, so-called third parties are the serious choices in politics.

Photo Credit: The Simpsons

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  • Brian||

    First, I don't see why more people skip voting. It's a waste of time. You're not deciding anything with your registered opinion on the inevitable outcome.

    If you *think* you can convince lots of other people to vote your way, and part of that involves pretending you're going to cast some specific vote, then that *might* be worth it, if we're taking about lots of other people, and just saying you're going to vote some particular way. It's still not really worth it to actually go vote. Just pretend you are. Same difference.

    But, the people who act like they're gaming their vote, as if their state hangs in the balance of their vote: God, you're delusional. You're not going to hurt Hillary by voting Trump, or hurt Trump by voting Hillary.

    Hell, you might as well go crazy with it. Same difference.

    Cynthia McKinney, 2016!

  • Brandybuck||

    Actually, MOST people skip voting. "Neither Candidate Can Rise Above My Apathy" would have won the last several presidential elections had their non-votes counted. They are the true rational voters, not those that voted for Mr. Change or Mr. More of the Previous.

  • gaoxiaen||

    If they would include "none of the above", voting rates would skyrocket.

  • Curt2004||


  • Hank Phillips||

    America's Prohibition Party and Communist/Socialist parties got mebbe 2% of the vote on average? So why did the Prohibition Amendment get adopted to cause open machine gun warfare in the streets? When Herbert Hoover was sworn in the Internal Revenue and the Justice Department used the Income Tax Amendment for prohibition enforcement, causing the Great Depression. Howcum the laws, Constitution and economy changed if votes for those tiny parties made no difference?

  • Brian||

    "Howcum the laws, Constitution and economy changed if votes for those tiny parties made no difference?"

    So you're saying that the laws, constitution and economy changing imply that the votes of those tiny parties made a difference.

    The America's Prohibition Party and Communist/Socialist parties, who get 2% of the vote.

    Have it your way.

  • Curt||

    Cynthia McKinney, 2016...

    God save us all. I guess if we need options to make Trump and Clinton look better by comparison.

  • buybuydandavis||

    The only governor left in the race besides Kasich.

    Gary Johnson, Trump, and Hillary. Can people hate Libertarians so much that they wouldn't consider Johnson against those two?

    Vote The Johnson Without Small Hands!

    Is this how we'll be getting our Libertarian moment? 2% at the polls, here we come! Woohoo!

  • VicRattlehead||

    So what you're telling me is people need to "feel the Johnson" lol.

  • RobertFl||

    ooooo! :-)

  • The Other Libertarian||

    People are waaay ahead of you on this one...

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yeah man, feel MY johnson PLEASE!!!

    That leaves the wymn out, you sexist you!!!! They HAVE no Johnson to feel!

  • Citizen X||

    They can feel mine.

  • Hank Phillips||

    2% eliminated the draft, frightened the Machine into letting Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges remove gay issues from the chessboard, got weed legalized in a couple dozen states and is now eliminating the asset-forfeiture looting that directly caused the "subprime" crash, and has guided the nation into a host of libertarian-trending improvements on a host of issues recently reported here. If any party ideologically undercut the nuclear-armed communist empire, it was the LP, complete with support for SDI on Second Amendment grounds. With verifiable voting (like using an ATM to check your bank balance, only you check your vote was counted correctly), that 2% is certain to reveal itself to be at least 4%, and can only increase if we field GENUINE Libertarian candidates.

  • Catatafish & Woodchips||

    "...the asset-forfeiture looting that directly caused the "subprime" crash..."

    I haz a confuse.

  • Bob K||

    If the LP got 2% which would be a 100% increase and the LP continue to work on that scale we will have the White House in 2036!!! May not help some of the older LP folks but you will be leaving

  • JWW||

    Shit, I think this year the Libertarians could possibly make 5%. However that's still losing.

  • VicRattlehead||

    I will vote for Vermin Supreme before I support that fuckstick Petersen, his ideology is extremely dangerous to the liberty movement and I will have no part in the LP this year if he gets nominated. That sentiment is pretty much unanimous though out all the Libertarians and An-caps that i know, Petersen is despised with the fire of a thousand suns, may he fail miserably.

  • Zunalter||

    Mind filling me in as to why?

  • Brandybuck||

    Yeah, I've been trying to figure that out as well. I think he's a bit of a sleezeball in a W.A.R. kind of way, but I would take him over Drumpf and Hillarity any day of the week...

  • LPDave||

    Petersen rejects the non-aggression principle. http://thelibertarianrepublic......archist/4/

  • Catatafish & Woodchips||

    He seems to be severely restricting the NAP deliberately in ways that are just easier for him to knock down for the sake of his own argument. I'm hard-pressed to think of any libertarian I've spoken with or read from that wouldn't consider threatening someone with a gun a violation of the NAP and thereby permitting defensive violence.

  • Foo_dd||

    i don't really like him either. the media background for him feels too... wrong.... and does not really give him much in the way of qualifications.

    i don't think i would say i hate him, but GJ still looks like the best option on the table. (though it looks like we are up to 14 now, so i have to look into the two newcomers)

  • jjjjj||

    If Gary Johnson wants to have any shot at being the third party candidate of choice, he'll have to do better than that awful CPAC speech. The average student council president speech was less awkward than that.

  • colorblindkid||

    He is pretty awful at public speaking, unfortunately. He also kind of looks like a Muppet. However, against Hillary's blatantly obvious pandering and Trump's vulgarity and stupid face, I think it might not matter if he ever gets to actually debate those two.

  • CE||

    Michael Badnarik is an excellent public speaker.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Republican Gary Johnson ran a miserable and incompetent campaign as an imitation Libertarian. Look at the campaign literature and try to find a single reference to a specific LP plank. The software guy, McAfee, has 2 months' experience in the LP, if that. Austen Petersen is young like JFK, genuine like John Hospers, entrepreneurial and able to engage without antagonizing. I believe he is the best candidate, indeed, the ONLY actual libertarian candidate so far detectable. In Austin Texas we have a saying: Accept no substitutsky's...

  • Dr. Fronkensteen||

    I'm in a bright blue state. Since the electoral votes are winner takes all my vote for president doesn't count. I have no reason not to vote third party.

  • Bob Meyer||

    I also live in a bright blue state whose governor is mentally challenged by the complexity of tying his shoe. One senator thinks the governor is a genius and the other is owned by the software industry. My congressman has one of the worst voting records supporting every handout, bailout and transfer payment known to man. I have no reason to vote at all.

  • ENDelt260||

    I like to chit-chat w/ the old ladies working the polling place. I once got a couple discussing the most popular places to pay for sex in days gone by.

  • Paper Wasp||

    Hrm, King or Snohomish County?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Search "the case for voting libertarian" and you'll discover that spoiler votes are worth ten times their weight in D or R sucker votes when it comes to changing the laws and Constitution.

  • CE||

    I'm in a bright blue state. Since the electoral votes are winner takes all my vote for president doesn't count. I have no reason not to vote third party.

    The same is true in every state. If any state ever did come down to 1 vote, there would be a recount and the outcome would have a 50-50 chance of flipping, as it did in Florida in Bush vs. Gore.

  • Mesoman||

    Unless you truly believe that both major party candidates are exactly the same amount of bad, you should vote for the lesser evil. Otherwise, you are throwing away your vote.

    And no, a Libertarian getting 2% of the vote does nothing for libertarianism, but if it causes the Republicans to lose as a result, libertarians will never get heard in that party again.

  • ||

    We've never been heard there in the past.

    Fuck the Republicans. Fuck them to death. My vote costs them nothing, because they are not a reasonable alternative to Libertarianism. They could never earn my vote anywhere near where they are now, and they have made it perfectly clear that they will always go left before listening to classical liberals.

    Sell your bullshit elsewhere.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Mesoman is clearly ignorant of history. Open Friedman's "Free to Choose" and note that the socialist platform--complete with communist income tax and murder for all who resist it--is in the Constitution next to the 18th and 21st Amendments. The commie socialists and prohibitionists together elected about as many folks as the LP, yet their 2% changed the Constitution, laws and economy (Prohibition, Great Depression). Those changes were reversed by the Liberal Party formed in 1930 to counter religious totalitarians. In Australia a couple of dogs control thousands of sheep. In America a few spoiler votes here and there force the looters to change their platforms and laws in hopes of keeping their sticky fingers in the public till. Even a child can understand that.

  • Paper Wasp||

    Ah, yes. It's time for the Repubs to pull out that imaginary gun and put it to our heads. "If you don't vote for the Party, we'll never hold the football for you again, and snicker while we pretend to invite you to kick it!"

    Yes, both major party candidates are beyond fucking gadawful. They are proof that Jesus died in vain, both of them. You've got your choice between The World's Stupidest Goombah, and Liar Liar Pantsuit on Fire.

    Votes are earned. Neither of these corrupt, hypocritical pieces of shit has earned my vote. Good day, sir.

  • gaoxiaen||

    Well said.

  • simplybe||

    Very well said.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Liar Liar Pantsuit on Fire


  • ||

    Unless you truly believe that both major party candidates are exactly the same amount of bad

    And indeed they are.

  • R C Dean||

    At some point, the choices are so bad there's no reason to try to pick between them.

  • simplybe||

    That response is way this country is so screwed up. Vote for evil one or vote for evil two. Why not kick all the thieving bastards out. Vote for anyone not a Republican or Democrat. Maybe then they will get the idea we are tired of politics as usual and start representing the people and not special interest.

  • Curt||

    Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich. Maybe Turd Sandwich is just a tiny bit better, but they are both entirely unacceptable. That's not a reason to vote for TS. That's motivation to make sure people understand that there are other options and convince them to consider those options. Not to convince them to abandon those options.

  • dbw1977||

    I wish Comedy Central would play that episode, on repeat, for the full week leading up to the elections.

  • Curt||

    I agree completely. Eventually people might understand that it isn't actually about school mascot

    I'm also a big fan of repeating things!

  • dbw1977||

    I wish Comedy Central would play that episode, on repeat, for the full week leading up to the elections.

  • Curt||

    I agree completely. Eventually people might understand that it isn't actually about school mascot

    I'm also a big fan of repeating things!... and squirrels, too!

  • CE||

    Your vote is thrown away regardless. No state is ever decided by one vote. And if it was, there would be a recount.

    By voting for a third party candidate, my vote and my political preference is accurately recorded for posterity. If more people join me, maybe the third party candidate will have a chance of winning next time, or the time after that.

  • zastrong||

    Everyone always neglects to mention the Independent American Party when they list third parties. In Utah, we're the third largest party, for instance. On this subject of the viability of third parties, I recently wrote an article. It is entitled "Voting Independent is NOT a Vote for the Democrats." You can read it by going to the IAP's website or by clicking this link:

  • Hank Phillips||

    zastrong's concusion is correct, though the premises only make sense from mystical altruist premises. Of course republican prohibitionists claim that voting against evil betrays them! If there were a good reason to vote for bigots bombing moslems, shooting blacks and hippies and wrecking the economy with looter asset forfeiture they'd come out and defend it. They dirty their drawers at the thought of a libertarian getting 2% and them losing by 1% because less looting means less money in the till for both looter parties to steal. Third party voting has throughout history changed a zero-sum game into a paradigm shift. Vote your conscience!

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yeah, man, but WHERE can I find me a third party?!?!? Is there one, anywhere, to be found?


  • Rockabilly||

    Gary Johnson, if he receives the LP nod, is the only serious candidate who will end Obama's wars of choice and his racist war on drugs.

  • Michael Price||

    "offer clear evidence to anybody who hasn't drunk the major party Kool-Aid "
    So about 3% of the American population?

  • SIV||

    McAfee or stay home. GayJay is an embarrassing joke

  • mashed potatoes||

    Can't tell if serious, but I think Gary Johnson really is a bad candidate. Absolutely fine for a protest vote, but every time he is on a stage I just think about how he really will have no broad appeal. And as we now know all to well, ideology and policy are very, very small factors which influence a voter.

  • SIV||

    Absolutely serious. Why run the last place Republican from the 2012 campaign?

    His issues are a new consumption tax and crony regulated MJ.

  • buybuydandavis||

    but every time he is on a stage I just think about how he really will have no broad appeal.

    So, as a serious question, how did he get elected in New Mexico if he is such a disaster?

  • Notorious UGCC||

    Perhaps Reason could do in-depth examinations of the third-party nominees?

  • Notorious UGCC||

    *cough* Constitution Party *cough*

    (once they have a nominee)

  • MSimon||

    Since this is the most important election ever, I'm voting for entertainment.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    Then you have a *lot* of choices.

  • simplybe||

    I have been touting voting for a 3rd party candidate on this and every other site I can. Not because I think Gary Johnson or any other candidates will save our country but as a form of term limits. I have little doubt that my efforts are in vain. I have stopped watching FOX with the exception of Cavuto, Kennedy and Stossel. Eric on the Five has such a man crush on Trump that it embarrass's his co hosts and Lou Dobbs would eat a a mile of Trumps poop in hopes that Trump would grace him with a fart. And I will leave Greta out because of PC. Trump said it best " I love low educated voters" and they are to stupid to realize he is talking about them not the other guy. I think the lady at Reason Magazine has it right. Stop voting your just encouraging the bastards

  • Foo_dd||

    this article gives me that "i want to believe" feeling. i know I'm voting 3rd party, but my hope that significant numbers will join me is slim, at best.

  • Seamus||

    The Democrats are ready to coronate an authoritarian former secretary of state who fairly reeks of influence-peddling and is the subject of an FBI probe into the mishandling of classified information that passed through a private email server she set up to avoid freedom of information inquiries.

    For us English speakers, the word you're groping for here is "crown."

  • R C Dean||

    In many ways, the most blatant and obvious crime that she committed was wiping a server, however ineptly, while it was actually under multiple federal subpoenas.

    The unholy shitstorm that would break over a hospital that attempted to wipe electronic records that were under federal subpoenas would be epic. Jobs lost, millions in fines, perhaps even people in jail.

    But for the Iron Vagina, crickets.

  • SteveC||

    "the American aversion to voting for anybody not affiliated with the letters 'R' or 'D'"
    Wow, so the "wasted-vote dilemma" is a mere aversion, not a bona-fide dilemma imposed by our choose-one plurality voting system. I wish Reason would devote an article to the vote-splitting problem and the Approval voting solution.


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