Top Myths about the Ineffectiveness of Third Party Voting

There are a lot of misconceptions among American liberals, progressives, and radicals about how the political process in the United States works. Most people feel that they are trapped in a system where they must choose between two political parties (Democrats and Republicans) if they want their vote to count. In fact, I will argue that voting for either of these political parties is the least effective thing you can do!

Myth #1
Your vote for a D or R candidate will make a difference in the election outcome.

Firstly, you can accurately predict most elections by using poll averaging (Examples: US , Canada, UK). In most elections the winner of a race (a district or a state) can be predicted with 95% or greater accuracy. This is true so long as there is adequate polling done - for instance state assembly seats have less polling and are harder to predict.

For instance, currently there are only a couple true "swing states" in the US presidential election (where the vote difference is within 3%), and even if Obama did lose them - he'd still win the race. A state can be a "swing state" early on in the election, however when the election is down to the last two weeks you can use poll averaging to predict the winner in all but a couple of the states. The number of "swing states" might fall from 10 to 3. So if you aren't in these three states, you can vote for a third party candidate without affecting the election result on a state level - let alone on the national level.

Secondly, even if you are in a swing state or other close election - you are basically playing the Election Lottery. There might be a 1 in 100,000 chance that your one vote will make the difference. Most of the time it won't.

Myth #2
The goal of voting is to elect candidates
My goal is to build progressive/radical power in the United States. I want to build power from the grassroots by building social movements. This model of organizing is radically different from voting for people to represent us.

By contrast, the goal of several progressive/radical third parties in the Unites States (Green Party, VT Progressive Party, various Socialist parties, etc) isn't to achieve political power so much as it is to raise the issues of popular social movements and to increase their strength. When I go to a protest in Philadelphia I almost always see Green Party members, Socialists, and other radicals (anarchists) - they are integrate with social movements more than the Democrats and don't seek to corporate mainstream the movements' demands.

While it is true that many liberal social movements are unfortunately allied with the Democratic party, these ties need to be broken. If you are an environmentalist, you don't want to be allied to Obama and his support for Fracking (and global warming), peace activists cannot support the growing US military budget, labor activists cannot support his failure to replace the National Labor Relations Board with rules that support workers rights, and LGBTQ should laugh at his late-coming support for same-sex marriage (which correlated neatly with an increase in public support for it to above 50%) and is a position that wasn't backed by action, and Obama has failed to implement a major green jobs program that could create millions of jobs as well as pay for itself in energy savings and increased tax revenues (We should be investing $500 billion or more annually in energy efficiency, water and soil conservation, solar, wind, and mass transit).

Myth #3
By voting for a D or R candidate you can have a positive influence on their policies.
It is equally likely that by voting for a candidate on the left that you will cause the D candidates to shift to the left both in the primary and in their policies once in power (see the role of the Canadian NDP in pushing the Liberal party to enact NDP proposals - like universal medicare, unemployment insurance, and social security).

Myth #4
The United States will only ever have two major political parties.

This myth ignores US history. Over a hundred years ago, the Republicans replaced the Whigs. In more recent history, the Socialist Party won many small elections (Ex. the Mayor of Milwaukee). In past US presidential elections there have been significant third party candidates (albeit primarily moderate or right-wing ones) including George Wallace, Ross Perot (who briefly polled in first place for the 1992 election), John Anderson (1980), and to a lesser extent Ralph Nader in 2000.

This myth also relies upon ignorance of how other country's political systems work. You can discount the history of third parties in the US (especially progressive ones) as one primarily of failure, however if you look at other countries - then the stories of success are impossible to deny.

Pick two or three democratic countries. Look at their party system. Do they have a party that supports socialism, democratic socialism, or communism that played a major role in the past fifty years? In most cases, you'll find one. Now those radical/progressive political parties have made major mistakes, however they have generally done a better job than the US Democratic Party.

Communist and socialist (or social democratic) parties existed in every country in Europe. Closer to the Unites States, in Canada the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and then its successor the New Democratic Party (NDP)- both advocated for socialism and won numerous provincial elections. The New Democratic Party (now more of a progressive party than a socialist or even social democratic one) just won second place in the last federal election, and in doing so it beat Canada's main governing party (the centrist Liberals) that has been in power the most since Canadian independence.

Myth #5
The mechanisms of the US political system prevents the rise of a third party
When I try to explain to Americans how politics works in Canada (where we have around 5 national political parties, perhaps another 7 provincial parties, and who knows how many municipal parties), they always assume that we use proportional voting. Well we don't.

We should implement Mixed Member Proportional Voting. However that will be a hard fight and in the mean time it is possible for progressives to win electoral power in our evil First Past the Post system.

The Canadian parliament is similar to the US House of Representatives (and many other countrys' national assembly) in that one person is elected per geographic district on a winner-take-all basis. Using this system, Canada has had three major political parties since 1940 (Conservatives, Liberals and the CCF/NDP).

Similarly the UK parliament has had three major parties (Conservatives, Labor and Liberal Democrats).

It is likely that UK and Canada have benefited from having smaller districts that decrease the influence of money, as well as a stronger labor movement and a weaker Christian right (in fact in Canada a couple of the key leaders of the socialist CCF/NDP were ministers and the party benefited from the progressive Social Gospel movement). While the United States does not currently face favorable conditions for the development of strong progressive third parties, there are areas where it is possible to win (ex. Green Party mayoral candidate got 47% in San Francisco in 2003) and these current conditions will not last.

Myth #6
Corporations rule the Unites States and always will.

If corporations rule the US, then we are forced to work with corporate parties to fight over bread crumbs.

By contrast I believe that we are heading into a massive economic crisis sometime in the next fifty to seventy years that will be a result of an environmental crisis (global warming, resource shortages, increases in food prices). I'm guessing that we'll start with some small crises (like Arab Spring which was caused by high food prices plus dictators) that will grow larger and ultimately lead to a radically different social system.

If you want to work for the long term, then you might consider investing your time in building progressive or radical third parties. These parties may be small now, but they will grow rapidly in the decades to come.

In Egypt the revolution was planned by the April 6th Youth Movement, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and they had a nonviolent revolution. While the Egyptian revolution still has a long way to go, they were far more successful than the Libya movement which turned into a civil war and left the country full of armed militias. We need to build radical social movements so we're ready for the crises that are to come!

Myth #7
You can support a lesser evil candidate without getting tainted when they do evil

Some people advocate for a corporate lesser evil candidate. That candidate gets elected and then does something evil like bombing innocent civilians, wasting billions on war, handouts for the rich, or strengthening the racist criminal injustice system- and they expect that this outcome will not cause people to lose faith in them, their organizations, or their movements.

For me a lot of activism is about building trust. We need to prove that social movements will be consistent in our support for the people and people power in a world where mainstream politics is full of cynical promises and corporate lies. When we have a major crisis who will you trust more: someone who has been working with the Greens or Socialists for 20 years, or someone who was supporting the Democrats as the "lesser-evil" up until the last moment?

Most progressive organizations won't build alliances with other organizations that advocate for regressive policies (economic injustice, war, environmental destruction, racism, sexism, etc) - so why should we make an exception for politicians?