For some Missouri voters, the upcoming election will be painful process. How does one vote in a presidential election if one doesn’t particularly like either Donald Trump or Joe Biden?
Many Missouri residents — some of whom will be voting for the first time — may notice that there are several options beyond simply voting for either the Republican or Democratic candidate.
Voters who identify with Republican values such as encouraging free trade, supporting the military and promoting moral conservatism may be uneasy with voting for Trump, who has raised costs for businesses and consumers by starting a trade war, argued that former Republican John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured and has defended his philandering by claiming that a perk of being famous is that you get to grab women wherever and whenever you want.
Voters who identify with Democratic values such as ensuring free health care, ending systematic racism within our criminal justice system and promoting diversity may be uneasy with voting for Biden, who is opposed to “Medicare for All” on grounds that it would be too costly, responsible for helping create the tough-on-crime climate of today by supporting every major crime bill since 1976 and who is — like many politicians — an elderly white male.
Small government conservatives unable to reconcile with Trump’s transgressions may be tempted by the Libertarian Party, which argues that we shouldn’t let the government tell us how to live our lives, we shouldn’t leave the deficit to our children and grandchildren and we should abolish institutions that are not required by our Constitution — like the IRS.
Big government liberals unable to look past Biden’s pragmatism may be tempted by the Green Party, which argues that the government should completely reorganize the economy through a Green New Deal, the government should guarantee free health care and the government should seek to end racial injustices by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Does it make sense for conflicted Missouri residents to consider non-Republican/Democratic candidates? In short: No.
In political science terms, the answer lies with Duverger’s Law, which explains that the way a country’s electoral system is structured influences how many competitive parties that country is likely to have. Per Duverger’s Law, in single-member districts that utilize plurality rule — which is how most elections work in the U.S. — two parties typically dominate.
For this upcoming election, any vote for any presidential candidate that is not affiliated with either of the two dominant parties is ‘wasted’ in the sense that it is unrealistic for any candidate other than Trump or Biden to win.
Furthermore, by voting for a candidate other than Trump or Biden, you might actually be helping out the candidate you would least like to see as president. History provides us with a few examples of how this could happen.
In 1992, Texan business magnate Ross Perot ran for president as an independent. Consequently, some conservative voters upset about George H. W. Bush’s reversal on his “no new taxes” promise were drawn to the Perot campaign. Ultimately, however, Democrat Bill Clinton won the presidency, in part as a result of Perot splitting the Republican vote. If Perot voters had instead chosen from among the two dominant parties, many would likely have opted for Bush over Clinton, which could have changed the election.
In 2000, Ralph Nader ran for president as a candidate for the Green Party. Consequently, some environmentally conscious liberals chose to cast their vote for Nader over Democrat Al Gore. Ultimately, however, Republican George W. Bush won the presidency, in part as a result of Nader splitting the Democratic vote. If Nader voters had instead chosen from among the two dominant parties, many would likely have opted for Gore over Bush, which — once again — could have changed the election.
Sometimes we don’t necessarily like either of the two frontrunners that we are encouraged to choose between. Unfortunately, political science tells us that voting for a candidate who’s not a part of either the Republican or Democratic parties is not very strategic and may actually lead to consequences that you’d be even less happy with.
Don’t waste your vote. Pick the lesser of two evils, and then consider supporting an alternate electoral system that could possibly break this Republican-Democrat duopoly we are currently stuck with.
Joshua Holzer is an assistant professor of political science at Westminster College in Fulton and a resident of Columbia.