Third Party Voters Draw Criticism | Is a vote for Johnson or Stein wasted?

Jill Stein, pictured here with her running mate Ajamu Baraka, is running for president as a part of the Green Party.

The increased attention given to third party candidates this election season has called into question the validity of supporting a candidate that is highly unlikely to win.

“On some level, all voters are aware of the disadvantages third party candidates have compared to their major party competitors,” said Dr. Beth Miller Vonnahme of UMKC’s Political Science department. “However, the disadvantages are much greater than most voters can imagine.”

Vonnahme listed campaign finance, the Electoral College system, organizational hurdles such as qualifying for state ballots, and exclusion from “free media” as significant challenges third parties face.

“The list of disadvantages goes on and on,” said Vonnahme. “There are substantial structural and psychological disadvantages for third party candidates that make it all but impossible for [them] to win.”

Because the likelihood of a third party victory is so slim, supporters have drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle for wasting their vote. The issue of wasted votes is not that simple.

“It really depends on the purpose you think voting serves,” said Dr. Benjamin Woodson, who also works for the Political Science Department.

Vonnahme recognizes that from a certain perspective, the criticism is valid.

“If you think about elections from a rational perspective—I vote for someone that I believe will win the election and best represent my preferences—then yes, one is wasting a vote for a third party candidate,” said Vonnahme.

Some voters, including many third party supporters, do not approach voting from this rational perspective however.

“If you consider voting as a legitimizing activity —as a way for voters to voice their support or opposition for the choices before them—then no, voting for a third party candidate is reasonable,” said Vonnahme.

Despite the increased attention given to third party candidates this election season, both Gary Johnson and Jill Stein have seen their poll numbers drop in the past couple of weeks.

Gary Johnson is running for President a member of the Libertarian Party for the second year in a row.

Gary Johnson is running for President a member of the Libertarian Party for the second year in a row.

“That happens almost every year as Election Day gets closer,” said Woodson.

While many voters initially support third parties due to frustration with the two party system, most end up casting their ballot for a major party candidate.

“Third parties put forth actual candidates with positions and personal qualities that may or may not be appealing once voters become informed about the candidates,” said Vonnahme.

While it might be not be wise for third party voters to hold their breath waiting on their candidate to win, there is one practical benefit to voting third party.

“There is federal funding available in the next presidential cycle to third parties who do well this time around,” said Vonnahme. “It isn’t a lot of money, but voters might have a long-range goal of slowly improving the party’s position.”

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