Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Third Party Voting: Did it Matter and Why People Do It

Hi :) I don't generally share my political views on the internet because I think it's best when people do their own research and come to their own conclusions. This is also why you don't see me jumping into the fray much on controversial issues. I often have strong feelings, which I discuss with people offline, but I try not to say anything online unless I'm certain of the facts. I worry sort of obsessively about spreading disinformation or propagating false narratives, and usually by the time we know all the facts about something, people have moved on to talking about something else.

There were a lot of false narratives spread by major media outlets on election night, one of which is that "If HRC had gotten all of Jill Stein's votes and half of Johnson's she would have won." That's not true. As far as I can tell, it was never true at any point during the vote counting. Media personas who spread this falsehood gave HRC half of Johnson's votes but conveniently didn't give the other half to Trump. When you give the other half to Trump, those votes cancel each other out and become mathematically irrelevant. Then when you look at the total number of Stein votes, it's not enough for HRC to win. (These figures are from 11/20.)

                             Trump             Clinton                Difference             Stein
Florida               4,605,515           4,485,745               119,770                64,019
Michigan            2,279,221           2,267,798                 11,423                50,690
Pennsylvania     2,912,941           2,844,705                 68,236                48,912
Wisconsin          1,409,467           1,382,210                 27,257                30,980

It's enough for HRC to win Michigan, and just barely Wisconsin (needing 88% of Stein's votes), but that's all. I've heard people say it might be close enough to trigger a recount in Pennsylvania, but that's before you allocate the 20,000 votes for Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party (theocratic paleoconservatives) to Trump. [Please let me know if my math is wrong or there's something I'm leaving out and I will update this post. My intent is to clarify, not mislead.] And if you seriously believe that more than 50% of the Libertarian (no social services, very small government) voters would have voted Democrat (lots of social services, big government), consider this post about third party voters from Jill Stein herself, where she explains her beliefs about third parties and cites exit polls that indicate 55% of Libertarian voters and 61% of Green Party voters would have stayed home/opted not to vote rather than choose Trump or HRC.

I understand that voter suppression played a role and that some people suspect there was election fraud, and I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of either of those issues. But even if the numbers in this chart were different, given that in every election a significant percentage of registered Democrats vote Republican and a huge number of Dems don't vote at all, there's no logical reason to blame third party voters (who are often Independents), other than the fact that they're convenient scapegoats. But do you know what else they are? They're people who might have taken the time to vote for your preferred down ballot candidates, even if they didn't share your choice for president. They're also the voters most likely to return to the fold if the Democrats put forth a strong progressive candidate in 2020.

So if you truly believe that swing state third party voters had a major role in putting Trump in office, my recommendation would be to stop bashing them, or else we might be right back here in four years. Because when it comes to influencing voter behavior, shaming and coercion don't work. If you don't believe me, review the psychological theory of reactance, which states essentially that when someone or something threatens our idea of free will, we adjust our behavior in a way that works to reestablish it.

You know you want to.

But why would people throw away their votes in such an important election?

Well, I suspect for most, it wasn't throwing away their votes. There's been a lot of talk of "wasted protest votes" but when I think of a protest vote, I think of the 88,000 Michiganers who voted down ballot but skipped over the choice for president. I think of people who wrote in Sweet Meteor of Death or Cthulhu for president. Those people literally selected "None of the Above." Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying you should shame or blame those people either. We need their votes for 2020 too. But I think their motivations were different from those of third party voters. I asked a few people I know who voted for Stein or Johnson why they went third party. Here's what I found out:

Third party voters invested their votes for 2020:
"Growing up, I thought the Republicans were the party of the rich and the Democrats were the party of the common people, but this year both parties seemed to serve the same master. We need a third party for the 99% I voted for Jill Stein because I wanted to increase the chance that the Green Party could get campaign funding for next time."
This hasn't been mentioned much in the media, but the #1 reason people voted for Green or Libertarian candidates was to try to get them federal funding and auto-ballot access for 2020. If a third party received 5% of the popular vote, that party would have been automatically eligible for millions of dollars in federal funding. They also wouldn't have had to petition each state individually to get their names onto the ballot--something that burns through a lot of limited resources each cycle.

Simply put, these voters invested their votes, hoping to be able to build a viable third party for 2020. Considering that more than 60% of people said they think we need a viable third party, this feels like the furthest thing from a "protest vote." It was a strategic choice that didn't pan out, but given that Stein was polling 2-3% and Johnson was polling 4-6% in polls that focused mainly on older respondents with landlines, there was no reason to think this goal would be impossible to achieve.

Third party voters wanted to send a message/decrease the chances of a mandate:
"I don't like Trump at all, but as a Bernie supporter I just didn't feel like the democrat platform was progressive enough. And after the whole "public and private" policy debacle, I didn't even trust Hilary to stick to any of the things she promised Bernie."
One of the reasons third parties exist is to keep the main parties "honest." Did you notice how as the race progressed, Clinton veered more toward Republican ideals and started courting neocon endorsements while Trump began stealing lines from Sanders? That's a thing that happens as candidates try to draw in undecided voters, many of whom are presumably moderates.

When the Democrats look back and see that although the Green Party percentage of the vote was still very small, it was three times what it was in 2012, what they should do is recognize that they failed some of their progressive base. Ballots don't have a comment section and voting is the most powerful way to send a message to a political party that says "Hey. Not good enough." Also, if HRC had won, but ended up without a mandate, it might have made it harder for her to go to war or implement policies that the majority of people did not want.

If you saw my chart numbers and thought "Yeah, but I'd feel better if HRC had won Michigan and Wisconsin because it would have been really close and with her winning the popular vote it would have been like she lost on a technicality," that's the whole point of what I'm talking about here. A lot of people are desperate for change. If HRC wins huge or loses in some way that it looks like a technicality, then the Democratic Party will change nothing.

And before you judge people for sending messages and demanding change instead of fighting Trump, ask yourself if you have a home, a job, health insurance, and a fallback source (spouse/parent/savings account/401K/etc.) of financial support. Many people don't have those things. Many people have spent the last eight years struggling. Asking them to support a candidate who they felt would be a less-effective version of Obama is asking them to struggle for eight more years without even voicing their opposition.

Third party voters voted based on their principles:
"Donald Trump is offensive and unqualified but Hillary Clinton has made choices that killed thousands of innocent people and she wants to go back to the Middle East and do it some more. Both of these candidates also support the death penalty and don't seem worried about climate change at all. They stand for everything that I don't. I voted Jill and I don't regret it."
These people took a lot of crap online for allegedly acting morally superior or something, but I related to this woman's reasoning because I am also anti-war, anti-death penalty, and anti-fracking. But when I think about how my principles figure into voting, it has nothing to do with being able to pat myself on the back later. It's not like people who voted based on their principles are going to shrug it off if we go to war and the bodies start piling up, like "Don't blame me. I voted for Jill!" No, it's more a matter of reducing the chances of a mandate, as mentioned before, and not giving tacit consent for your government to engage in activities you find morally unacceptable.

Third party voters voted for their preferred platform:
"It's weird so many people are asking why I voted for Gary Johnson. I did it because I wanted him to be president. Isn't that the whole point of voting? I figured anything was possible this year and I like what Johnson stands for--the whole less govt interference thing. I'm sick of rich politicians telling us we have to buy expensive health insurance and putting people in jail for smoking weed."
Sometimes it's just that simple. I mean, I think they still teach in school that voting is to select who you want to be the leader, right? And the major reason third party candidates can't win is because no one votes for them because people think they can't win because no one votes for them... If Stein and Johnson had been given media coverage, if they'd been allowed in the debates, I think this could have been a whole different race.

Full disclosure: I voted for the Green Party.  I have the good fortune of living in Oregon, one of the bluest states in the nation, so I was able to vote Green with no real fear of affecting the final outcome. (If I were living in a swing state, I would have engaged in a "vote swap" like many people did, voting Democrat for someone in a safe blue state and having them vote Green Party for me.) I don't regret my vote. I do not view it as a wasted vote, because like the Green voters I quoted above, I was hoping to help a more progressive party gain federal funding for 2020. If the Democrats do not veer back to the left and once again become the party of the 99%, I will continue supporting the efforts of more progressive third parties.

Trump was not an option for me because, well, he's Trump. Nothing in this post should be interpreted to mean that I support Trump. I didn't before the election and I don't now. I do not condone his actions or his words. I hate that his election has emboldened racists and neo-nazis. I condemn any and all acts of racism and bigotry, as does every third party voter I know.

With respect to Clinton, I was disappointed by the various scandals and outraged by the DNC's unfair treatment of Bernie Sanders in the primary, but the biggest reasons I didn't vote for HRC were her disastrous foreign policy record and her eagerness to establish a no-fly-zone in Syria, a move which would, in her words, "kill a lot of Syrians."

A couple people felt I was misinformed about that, so in the interest of info sharing, here's a 30 second video of a high-ranking U.S. general on C-SPAN saying that implementing a no-fly-zone would be declaring war on Syria and Russia, here's an article from Salon quoting HRC as saying a no-fly-zone would "kill a lot of Syrians" and here's an article from Vox explaining why that is. Here's another article discussing why establishing a "safe zone" would also be highly problematic and require 30,000 or more U.S. troops to maintain it.

When I researched HRC's foreign policy history, from voting to go to war in Iraq, to pushing for more intervention in Afghanistan, to advocating regime change in Libya, to facilitating a coup in Honduras and later advocating deportation of child refugees who fled the new violent government, etc., what I found was someone who is very pro-war and pro regime change, but doesn't seem to learn from her mistakes. Syria, if it happens (and it still might) will probably be Iraq 2.0. I don't claim to be a foreign policy expert and I'm sure a lot of people disagree with my assessment, which is fine, but I take voting seriously and I put a lot of thought into my decision.

I was never in the armed forces, but back in my twenties I was engaged to a soldier who deployed to Iraq. I count several military members and veterans among my family and friends. Our enlisted military is full of brave people who sign up to protect America from enemies foreign and domestic. That shouldn't include fighting in other countries' civil wars for profit or political gain. It shouldn't include forcing democracy on countries that don't want it or aren't ready for it.

I was unable to verify the source of this meme, but I have no reason to
believe it's fake. If you have any info about it, please email and let me know.

Our leaders will tell you that when we intervene, we do it for "humanitarian reasons" and it's true that our brave military heroes have saved a lot of lives. But a glance back through history's genocides and massacres reveals that our government picks and chooses who it is that we help. A glance back through some of our military interventions shows that we've spent trillions of dollars killing people, destroying infrastructure, and bombing whole cities to rubble. Sure we depose the occasional tyrant or capture/kill the occasional terrorist, but more often than not we leave behind an unlivable country and a fragmented society ripe for a new dictator or terrorist group to move in. Trump was wrong to say that Obama founded ISIS, but it's undeniable that America's actions around the world have bred more terrorism and created circumstances ideal for radical groups to thrive.

I realize war may be an abstract concept if it hasn't touched you personally, and that the media often shields us from the knowledge of what are tax dollars are doing overseas. I know some people can rationalize "collateral damage" in exchange for political power or economic gain. I can't. The "lesser evil" argument falls away for me when we start talking about thousands of people dying. (Again, I am not saying Trump is better. I am saying both choices were unacceptable to me.) A couple of people cut me out of their lives because they said my vote means I don't care about marginalized groups, and all I can say is that the foreign people we kill in our wars are marginalized too. Their lives matter just as much to me as the lives of Americans.

Trump could very well be worse when it comes to war, but according to someone who has listened to a lot of his speeches, Trump professes to be anti-war, except for fighting ISIS.
"Much to my surprise, the young Yemeni American shopkeeper at my local convenience store in Brooklyn supported Trump. Why? Because, instead of hearing in Trump’s rhetoric a threat to round up Muslims, he heard a promise to stop supplying Saudi Arabia with bombs to drop on Yemen. “Over a thousand school kids killed by those bombs! Just little kids!"” -Christian Parenti, Listening to Trump
Of course I have little confidence in what Trump says, especially when he's surrounding himself with warmonger types, but when the choices are definite war and probable war, that's when (for me, anyway) it was time to look for better options. We third party voters understand if you're angry, but society needs dissenting opinions. Without them, you get things like Bay of Pigs. Also, we are angry too. We're angry that the DNC conspired against Bernie Sanders. We're angry that the Clinton campaign and major media tried to help Trump in the primaries because they felt he'd be easy to beat. We're angry that more people didn't choose peace. I think anger can be a positive, motivational force, but keep in mind that if we want to win in 2020, the Democrats, liberals, progressives, and whatever else leftists are calling themselves will have to find their way back to common ground. I'm open to that. Are you?

This is TV coverage during the primaries, not the general election. I wonder
why the media worked so hard to put the blame on third party voters. Could
it be partially because they don't want you to blame them?

Also, and this is not to downplay the horror of the recent surge of hate crimes, or of probable worse things to come, but it's important to realize that a lot of what people fear about Trump was already happening long before the election. I campaigned fervently for Obama and I truly believe he had our country's best interests at heart when he was elected, but at some point he got sucked into the cesspool of politics or something and stopped being our "hope and change" president. Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than any other president. He has detainment camps full of immigrants living in terrible conditions. The FBI is already profiling and spying on Muslims. On the war front, Obama has bombed seven countries this year. He's ordered ten times as many drone strikes as George W Bush. In addition to innocent foreign casualties, these drone strikes kill Americans, both on accident and on purpose. He's currently letting the #NoDAPL water protectors be attacked with tear gas and water cannons. Oh, and the U.S. spent the last year helping Saudi Arabia commit war crimes against Yemen, including providing the bombs from the above quote that killed lots of kids :/

So yes, we should be worried about Trump, for sure. We should resist the terrible things he stands for. But we also shouldn't give the current administration a pass. Be informed. Be angry. Be active. Be vocal. Be brave. Protect each other. And please know that I accept you and support you regardless of how you voted/you would have voted/your family voted. Political beliefs come from a variety of places--parents, teachers, friends, churches, communities, and more. They are influenced by past experiences and current situations. We can learn from each other if we're willing to listen. If you've walked away from friends or disowned family over this election, I hope you spend some time thinking about who they really are over the holidays or the next few months. Do they want the same things you want? Are they willing to fight against ignorance and hatred? If so, maybe you're on the same side in everything that really matters. We can help each other if we're willing to unite against common enemies. It is our actions that define who we are. It is our actions that can save us <3

*Comments disabled because the people who shared their thoughts with me have been blamed unfairly and I won't subject them to more hate. I'm totally open to discussing my thoughts with anyone, so hit the contact tab for my email address if you want to talk. I probably won't be on Twitter much for the next couple of months because I'm hard at work on books #11 and (hopefully) #12 :)