In 2016, a staggering 7.8 million voters didn’t vote for either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. Instead, they cast their ballot for green party candidates and libertarians. In this election, third party voters had an overwhelming impact on the results, especially for losing Democratic candidate Clinton. Particularly in swing states, these votes demonstrated immense influence. In Pennsylvania, Trump and Clinton combined for just 95.6% of the state’s popular vote, which was a stunning drop from the 98.6% combined vote from 2012. Especially in such a close election, that 3% could have given Clinton the win over Trump. In Wisconsin, third party and independent voters drew in 188,00 votes, which was four times more than in 2012.
Despite their consistent and unsuccessful efforts during presidential elections, third party and independent candidates have grown over recent years. The largest third party is the Libertarian Party. It focuses on pro-civil liberties and mainly supports the rights of freedom. Libertarians mainly fight for a smaller and less intrusive federal government as well as the elimination of taxes. As of February 2020, this party increased to over 600,000 members. In 2016, former governor Gary Johnson was the Libertarian party nominee. He argued for the protection of civil liberties, a balanced budget, and no income tax.
The Green Party is a grassroots national party that focuses on environmentalism, nonviolence, social justice, and sustainability. A majority of the members support LGBTQ rights and gender equality, which demonstrates their left-leaning perspectives. Although the Green and Democratic Parties are viewed as very similar, the Green Party concentrates on pillars and ideologies. Furthermore, the Green Party is notoriously white, despite their anti-racist advocacy. In 2016, physician Jill Stein represented the Green Party and argued for a Green New Deal, an end in poverty, higher employment rates, health care, and protection of Mother Earth.
Finally, the Constitution Party is a far-right national party that supports a strict interpretation of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights while aiming to implement Biblical practices into the government. Like the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party also supports a smaller federal government. In 2016, attorney and former Vice President nominee Darrell Castle was named the Constitution Party candidate. Although the United States has various major and minor political parties, some citizens and candidates are independent, meaning that they do not identify as a member of any party. Independents will usually focus on plans and policies rather than party affiliation, and they do not have a long-standing loyalty to a particular party.
While some may argue that the sudden increase in votes signifies the growth of third parties, these advocates fail to consider the combined votes from past elections. As stated before, in 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney drew over 98% of the popular vote, despite Johnson and Stein appearing on the ballot as well. And, in 2008, Obama and John McCain accounted for nearly 99% of the popular vote. Simply put, the 2016 election was an indication of the nation’s disapproval of both Clinton and Trump rather than encouragement for the other candidates.
With the way our electoral college works, it is simply unreasonable to think that third party and independent candidates have a chance at the presidency. While this situation may gradually change in the far future, at this point, a third party or independent President is nearly impossible. No other candidate outside of the two major parties has ever been elected president, and this statistic will likely stay the same for years to come. In order to truly make a difference, voting for one of the top two contenders is the best option. Even when two candidates may seem unbearable, voting for a third party candidate or simply not voting at all is a crucial mistake. Instead, research and educate yourselves on each candidate’s party affiliation, plans, and future roles with the other branches of government. Recognize that the president is not the only one making key decisions in our government, as members of Congress and the Supreme Court also perform vital roles within our nation. Perhaps, consider a unified versus divided government based on a candidate’s political party. I further analyze this topic in my “How Voting by Party Can Help (and Hurt) the Country” post.
I wouldn’t call voting independent a complete waste. Given that you thoroughly research and educate yourself on each candidate and still prefer a third party or independent candidate, voting for him or her would be exercising your right. Nonetheless, there are better, more impactful options rather than choosing a Libertarian or Green candidate simply because the Democratic and Republican candidates are unfavorable.