Third Party & Independents Archives

Wasted Votes

I have never missed an election, and I have never voted for a Democrat or Republican presidential candidate. That means my vote is wasted. I am told this every time. To vote for an Independent, Libertarian, or other “third party” candidate is to throw one’s vote away, especially in the “big” elections.


I would assume that anybody writing in the center column on WatchBlog would feel otherwise. But allow me to lay out the argument that my vote is indeed meaningless - and yours is, too.

Take yourself back to the controversial US presidential election of 2000. I live in Virginia. I walk in to the voting booth and see the following tickets:

  • Bush / Cheney - Republican
  • Gore / Lieberman - Democrat
  • Nader / La Duke - Green
  • Browne / Olivier - Libertarian
  • Buchanan / Foster - Reform
  • Phillips / Frazier - Constitution

I don't remember the order in which they were presented to me, but these were my options. Bush / Cheney are projected to win the state by more than 7% over Gore / Lieberman. So, how do I cast a meaningful vote? Whether I vote for Bush or not, he's taking the 13 electoral votes from the Commonwealth of Virginia. It's just not close enough to dispute. Think about that. No matter which chad I punch, Bush wins Virginia – nothing I could do would change the outcome of the election. This is the definition of my vote being meaningless.


I have several friends who are libertarian Republicans. They talk the libertarian talk, and then - frustratingly - they vote GOP, every time. In 2000, they tried to persuade me to vote for Bush just to ensure that idiot Gore doesn’t get elected. The LP was polling under 2% and had no chance of winning (they argued) so you have to cast your vote for the candidate who is closest to your ideology among those candidates who are legitimate contenders. Even if the closest isn't very close. Otherwise the vote is wasted. The same argument was made in '04 to keep Kerry out of office. I expect it again in the next cycle.

I also have several friends who are libertarian Democrats. They have very libertarian philosophies, but always vote Democrat, for reasons similar to those I gave above. Their hatred and fear of the Republican Party (usually the Christian Right in particular) brings them to vote for candidates like Gore or Kerry, who don’t actually represent them at all. Because otherwise, the vote is wasted.


Except that my one vote could not affect the outcome of the election anyway. If I had voted for Bush, he wouldn’t have won harder or something. If I had voted for the Democrat, it wouldn’t have swung Virginia – the gap was nearly a quarter of a million people. In a closely contested state, I can at least understand why Greens, Libertarians, and Reform Party types would feel that they had to engage in tactical voting. But in most states, no individual vote is any more meaningful than my vote for the LP. I can accuse the libertarian Republicans or the libertarian Democrats of casting "wasted votes" as assuredly as they can accuse me.

Also, consider that third-party voters are often given credit / blame for splitting the vote. In particular, Perot in 1992 and Nader in 2000 are sometimes considered effective spoiler candidates, responsible for the election of Clinton and Bush, respectively. So voting Republican isn’t the only way to keep a Democrat out of office, and vice versa. I would argue that the 1992 election demonstrates exactly why voting “third party” is better than the tactical voting method. In that election, Independent candidate H. Ross Perot carried 18.9% of the popular vote, leaving Bill Clinton to win the presidency with the support of only 43.0% of voters. As a result, the Republican Party reevaluated what voters dislike about Democrats, and played to that in 1994. They did this well enough to get Perot’s support for their 1994 Contract with America, which held specific promises of fiscal conservativism. We all know the result – the Republican Party controls Congress.

The way in which this is an argument for voting third-party is that the Perot voters of 1992 were able to explain clearly what it was that they found lacking in the Republican Party, and they have had concessions in future elections. People who did not support Bill Clinton, but voted for him as the lesser evil, explained nothing to the Republican Party, and were not courted as effectively. What concessions have libertarian voters won from either major party by voting for them over the last decade or so? None, because so many vote Democrat or Republican. The Libertarian Party does not represent me perfectly, but if it is closer to me than the two major parties, then I want them to know that. I want the Democrats to know exactly why I am not voting for them. I want the Republicans to know exactly why I am not voting for them. If any “third party” can significantly muster more than 5% of the vote, or if alternative parties are able to approach 15% collectively, their positions will be taken more seriously than they are now.

Posted by Wulf at August 16, 2006 3:46 PM
Comment #175907

“The Dead End of Lesser-Evilism”

“The 2004 Elections and the Collapse of the Left”

Good article Wulf, people on both sides of the independent aisle, as well as independent moderates need to stop throwing their vote to the two major parties

Posted by: Richard Rhodes at August 16, 2006 4:18 PM
Comment #175911

I have only voted for one major candidate for President and that is because I do reside in a state that is very closely contested. I live in Oregon and Voted for Kerry because Bush is not anything close to what I believe in as a Libertarian Dem. I voted Nader in 2k and Perot in 96. I voted libertarian in most local elections. I am hopeing that my displeasure will soon be felt is more people will stand for what they believe in. Good article, glad I am not the only frustrated voter out there.

Posted by: timesend at August 16, 2006 4:39 PM
Comment #175931

Wulf, very good treatment of the topic. Even more basic however, is the concept that democracy affords one the right and freedom to vote, and exercising that right and freedom to make an individual choice by whatever criterion one deems important, is the most patriotic and democratic action a single citizen will ever take besides serving in the military in a time of war.

It is NOT possible to waste such a vote if one deliberates their choice and decides which choice is going to be best for them, their country, either one, or both.

But I will tell you what I think is a wasted vote. One not cast. One not deliberated. Or one cast for the team of one’s choice regardless how bad and worse their own lot, the country’s lot, or both, get. And friend, we have about 50% wasted votes in our democracy, and one of the lowest voter turnouts of Eastern European countries (by far), Western European Countries, some Middle Eastern countries, Most Asian Pacific countries, and almost all other North and South American countries.

Wasted votes eventually will lead to a wasted democracy and nation. I believe we are proving that for ourselves right before our very eyes. When one considers the possibilities for the greatest possible good which America is potentially capable of in the world, and compare her actual performance to that standard, the deficit is truly huge.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 16, 2006 6:17 PM
Comment #175935

Wow. I’ve never thought of it that way. Thanks for giving me additional ammo in my fight with my Rep and Dem friends about me always “wasting” my vote.

Posted by: John at August 16, 2006 6:51 PM
Comment #175987

I’ve frequently been told that voting for a candidate who didn’t have a chance of winning was “wasting my vote”. Well, I live in Indiana. Kerry didn’t have a chance in hell of winning Indiana in 2004. So were Kerry supporters just “wasting their votes” by voting for Kerry? Likewise, did Bush supporters in Massachusetts “waste their votes” by voting for a candidate who would never win that state?

Of course not!

The only “wasted vote” is a vote for a candidate that you don’t want in office. If you’re just voting “lesser of two evils”, you’d be better off staying home on election day.

I like to remind people of the political climate in the mid 1800s. There were two parties that dominated the political landscape — the Democrats and the Whigs. In 1856, a previously-unknown third party ran a presidential candidate for the first time, and lost. Four years later, that party won the presidency. That party was the Republican party, and their candidate was Abraham Lincoln.

Third parties CAN make a difference.

Posted by: Rob Cottrell at August 16, 2006 11:30 PM
Comment #175991

Good points. It’s a shame that so many Americans waste their vote election after election. They
They waste them by blindly voting for a candidate just because they’re of a certain party without even knowing what the candidate even stands for. And they also waste them by not voting because “My vote don’t make a difference anyway.”
Incumbents depend on both of these types. And I believe these types have gotten more incumbents reelected than all the informed voters.

I believe that if just 25% the voters voted for third party or independent candidates this year it would shake the major parties to there roots.

Posted by: Ron Brown at August 16, 2006 11:53 PM
Comment #176008

That day is coming Ron. It’s coming.

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 17, 2006 1:51 AM
Comment #176009

In the past, no one cared about Independent voters because they were viewed as having no cohesive agenda. Welcome to the 21st century where Independent voter organizations are springing up around the country and national one as well.

Below is an excerpt from an email I just received from Independent Voice which demonstrates clearly one of many ways in which a non-Republocrat vote is still a powerful vote.

CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENTS DRIVING REFORM AGENDA INTO GUBERNATORIAL CAMPAIGN, a California organization which promotes the power of the state’s 3.6 million independent voters, launched the next stage of a campaign today to directly involve independent voters in the upcoming California gubernatorial election by introducing their agenda for political reform and challenging all candidates to endorse it.

The campaign has already resulted in political reform becoming a defining issue in the election with both Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic challenger Phil Angelides strongly advocating a political reform agenda.

Statewide polls show that independents, who currently make up 23% of registered voters, will likely be the determining factor in who wins the race for Governor this year. In the most recent polls, Governor Schwarzenegger has a slight lead with independents, with the overwhelming majority still undecided., formerly called the Committee for an Independent Voice, is not new to statewide politics. It was one of the key players in both the 2004 Open Primary Intitiative campaign (Prop 62) as well as the Redistricting Reform Initiative in 2005 (Proposition 77), and its support recently helped put Ron Dellums over the top by 155 votes in the Oakland Mayoral Race.

“Politicians in this state and across the country are beginning to realize the importance and power of independent voters,” said spokesperson Jim Mangia, the former National Secretary of the Reform Party, who is leading the effort to reach out to all gubernatorial campaigns, major and minor party alike. “Independents defy traditional political labels and come from across the political spectrum. What we share is an understanding that radical democratic reform of the political process and of government is the urgent political necessity of the day.”

Since 1990 the number of voters registered outside the two major parties has doubled, while the percentage of Democratic and Republican Party registrants has declined. In recent days both Democratic challenger Angelides and Governor Schwarzenegger have embraced various political reform issues – from redistricting reform to public financing of campaigns to a package to attack political corruption.

As part of its ongoing discussions and dialogues with the candidates has sent out a questionnaire to governor hopefuls on issues of political reform and the importance of the independent voter.

A series of meetings and dialogues with candidates and/or their representatives is already underway. recently launched a major internet outreach via its website (, and has been polling, holding conference calls and meetings with independent voters across the state—briefing them on candidate responses and the growing prominence of political reform issues.

“The thrust of the campaign is to bring independent voters into direct dialogue with the candidates around our issues, in a way in which we haven’t yet seen in American politics,” says Mangia. “Independents are tired of watching the political process abused by partisanship and special interests while serious issues go unresolved. This year, we’re organizing to flex our political muscle. And it’s a voting block that neither Schwarzenegger nor Angelides can win without!”

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 17, 2006 2:03 AM
Comment #176144

Ron Brown,

Yep, you’re right.
The high 90% incumbency rates communicate one thing to incumbents:

  • “We can do anything we want, short of murder, and get away with it”.

  • “We can hide $90K of bribes in our fridge. “

  • “We can drive off of bridges (killing passengers), peddle influence, and be completely fiscally and morally bankrupt.”

  • “We can print billions per day in new money (i.e. our fiat-funny money system), start wars based on flawed intelligence, lie to the voters (i.e. “read my lips”, “I did not have sex with that woman”, “We have found weapons of mass destruction”, etc.). ”

  • “And, even if ever indicted and convicted of a crime, we can get a pardon (like the 140 felons released by Clinton)”

And, that is just the tiny tip of the iceberg.

To make matters worse, 83% of all campaign donations ($2.4 billion altogether in 2004) come from less than 1% of the U.S. population. The remaining 99% of the U.S. population can’t compete with that. The remaining 99% of the U.S. population can not out-spend those that abuse vast wealth and power.

  • Never, were voters supposed to lazily pull the party lever, or vote strictly along the party line. That is how irresponsible incumbent politicians fool and control voters, by fueling the petty partisan warfare, while the nation falls apart right before our very eyes.
  • Never, were voters supposed to wallow in the petty partisan warfare. What good are parties if irresponsible, bought-and-paid-for incumbent politicians in both parties just take turns using and abusing everyone ?
  • Never, were voters supposed to empower the very same irresponsible, bought-and-paid-for incumbent politicians that use and abuse us.
  • Never, were voters supposed to be so blinded by the petty partisan warfare, that they are oblivious to our serious problems as they grow in number and severity.
  • Never, was government supposed to be FOR-SALE, where too many bought-and-paid-for incumbent politicians are too beholding to a few big-money puppeteers with vast wealth and power (instead of the voters).
  • Never, were voters supposed to ignore their government, as they do now, because that invites abuse and breeds corruption.

There are two classes in this country:

  • One class derives concentrated power from its concentrated wealth.

  • The other class has power only in numbers, and that power is largely ineffective due to their inability to mobilize through organization.

What will it take for voters to understand the problem and the solution?


And, pain and misery is a good teacher, and we are on the right path to guarantee that lesson is on the way.

Posted by: d.a.n at August 17, 2006 3:49 PM
Comment #176555

Cmon guys…loosen up a bit.

America is no better or worse than any other great civilization. We all come full circle from oppression-poverty to rebellion-liberty to opportunity-prosperity to complacency-entitlement to pacifism/slavery.

The GOP is on the horse and buggy.
Democrats are on the bullet train.
Either way, we’re well on the way to socialist oppression.

Pessimist, no.
I simply concede the fallibility of sinful humanity.
I believe it was John Quincy Adams who said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost”

Cast your vote, concede popular defeat…
Sit back and watch the show!

Posted by: Matt Goldseth at August 19, 2006 11:08 PM
Comment #176645

Matt, your pessimism fails to take into account the immense changes that have occured in human history due to the actions/convictions of one, or a few, persons. Galileo, Aristotle, Post President Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, or Mother Theresa. These people changed the course of history for millions of people. It is entirely possible that a change can occur beginning with the conviction and action of a single vote.

Your message is right on. Your pessimism is justified but, no more so than hope, if history is any indicator!

Posted by: David R. Remer at August 20, 2006 4:24 PM
Comment #176841

David, you make an excellent point about independent voter organizations. The potential for a rising influence due to using the internet to network will, in the long term, be far to the advantage of groups who are currently in the minority, or too disorganized to matter.

General pessimism is warranted, but only in a measured amount, I think. There are too many opportunities for us to remain pessimistic.

Posted by: Wulf at August 21, 2006 6:29 PM
Comment #177111

I guess the question of “wasting your vote” is one that all libertarians wrestle with (even double small “l” “libertarian leaning” independents like myself).

The 3rd Party party problem is clear. As you discovered yourself, to the degree that a 3rd party is effective, it is to achieve the probable opposite result of a preferred outcome. Perot is effective, Clinton wins. Nader is effective, Bush wins.

The Libertarian Party is unique. Since it pulls more or less equally from both major parties, it is always impotent in national elections, (even in a negative way) and can be safely ignored by both major parties.

Admittedly a longshot, but I think there is a way for libertarians to become a relevant political force, which I outlined in my post Hand Wringing Libertarians

…in ‘06, with a limited turnout, and a highly polarized electorate, it is just possible that a simple idea, widely communicated, to a relatively very few voters on the margin can make a difference. If only there was some sort of ubiquitous communication medium that had the potential of getting this idea widely disseminated, we might get just enough votes to make a difference. Something like a vast network of tubes. Too bad it does not exist. If it did we could let the politicians know that thereis a libertarian voting block that does not throw it’s vote away every election.

What is needed, for this to work in this very short time-frame, is an organizing principle. A principle that is so obvious, so logical, and so clear-cut, that no leadership is needed, no parties are needed, no candidates are needed, and no infrastructure is needed. Ideally it is just this easy: You think about the principle, and you know how to vote.

That organizing principle exists. It is Divided Government. It is absolutely clear-cut and easy to understand. Divided Government is documented by Niskanen to work in a practical real-world manner to restrain the growth of the state. The entire idea can be communicated in a sound byte. As a voting strategy it can be implemented immediately.

Whatever the percentage of the electorate that libertarians and disgruntled limited government advocates represent, whether it is 9% or 20%, if they vote as a block for Divided Government, they become the brokers of an evenly split partisan electorate. They arguably become the single most most potent voting block in the country, specifically because they are willing to vote either Democratic or Republican as a block. Specifically because they are not fused to one party or the other.

It means, libertarians must ignore what the politicians say and look at what they actually do (Niskanen again). It means ignoring spurious invitations to fuse with either “big tent” party that no longer stands for anything meaningful. It means voting straight Democratic in 2006, and (if successful in establishing divided government) voting Republican for President in 2008. It means the difference between libertarians being a completely impotent political force, and libertarians having the biggest swinging political “hammer” in town.

And it can be done this year.

It can be done in the next in the next three months.
Just Vote Divided.

Posted by: mw at August 23, 2006 1:41 PM
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