Do you vote third party as a protest to the corrupt two party system? If you do, you are causing more harm than you might realize. In an era of increasing political polarization on America’s “right” and “left,” many are wondering if the two parties truly represent their values. While I fully agree that the current election system is highly flawed, you should fight the temptation to cast a protest vote, let me explain why.
In the United States, the Constitution lays out a “plurality” election system coupled with “single member” districts. This system is also known as the “winner take all” election method. The dominance of two political parties is a mathematical consequence of the winner-take-all system, because it requires that competing political parties be broadly popular enough to get a majority of votes in order to win. This system also squashes the viability of third parties that don’t have such broad appeal. While some countries use proportional representation election systems, which result in a wider array of viable parties, countries that also have plurality voting with single-member districts systems also tend to end up with two dominant parties.
Many people perceive the Republicans and Democrats as shutting out or blocking third parties, almost as if the system itself is corruptly holding back independent voices in the blind pursuit of power. That's not quite the case. The nature of the election system itself bestows the ability of only two parties to win. This is so well understood, in fact, that political scientists have a name for it, Duverger’s Law.
With such narrow margins to victory, both parties cannot win elections if they were to (for example) allow the Green Party or Libertarians to debate on stage on an equal footing. Neither the Green Party or Libertarian platforms have enough reach to appeal to the broader population such that they can win an election, but they CAN get just enough votes to cause the closest ideological competitor to lose (Green votes help ensure a Republican victory...for example). The Democrats wont allow the Green party on the stage, not because they don't want them there necessarily…but because they CANNOT have them there and still expect to win the election.
We may not like it and its certainly not ideal, but we have no choice. Short of a revolution or a Constitutional amendment, there will never be a viable third party in America. So it’s time to stop pretending that a “throwaway” third-party vote is a protest vote. A third party vote is a vote against the party that most closely aligns with your beliefs. A third party vote is likely a vote against your own interests.
One cannot play a game of chess by moving the pieces any direction one wants; one has to play within the confines of the rules, whether we like the rules or not. All we can do is work within the confines of the system that we have to move the country in the direction we want.