The 2016 election has made history in more ways than one: a woman and a first time office holder are both nominated by the major parties, the current disdain for establishment politics is higher than ever, the demographics of each party are shifting and now the percentage of voters turning to third parties had reached unprecedented highs.
For the 2016 election, more millennials than ever are planning on casting their ballot for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian third-party candidate. In fact, 29 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 to 24 have stated they will be voting for Gary Johnson this November. Alternatively, the Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, is polling in at 2 percent according to polls conducted by NBC and the George Washington University.
The Libertarian Party prides themselves on a laissez-faire approach to governing with a focus on individual liberty. Some policies that have polled favorably for most young voters is Johnson’s stance on the legalization of marijuana and police reform. However, the Libertarian platform also includes policies such as eliminating environmental regulation, abolishing the income tax, getting rid of the public school system, and dismantling Social Security and Medicare. Political ideology aside, these are policies that come as a shock for most Libertarian voters.
The Green Party’s platform emphasizes their anti-institutional sentiment, movements toward an ecologically sustainable society, tuition free higher education, and abolishing the senate to create a single-chamber congress. Many of these policies, although they might look appealing on a platform, lack any real logistics. For instance, Stein is a proponent of GMO labeling “until they are proven safe.” GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are organisms with altered DNA that gives them advantageous traits, such as rice with increased production of Vitamin A as a nutritional supplement or corn grown to be resistant to pests and disease. For a medical doctor like Stein to ignore the fact that GMOs are already safe only brings into question the rest of her policy decisions.
One concern as third parties continue to rise in the polls is their lack of media scrutiny. With so much airtime concentrating on the two main party candidates, many voters remain uninformed on both third-party candidates’ mistakes and accomplishments. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that 53 percent of voters haven’t heard enough about Johnson to form an opinion and 72 percent haven’t heard enough about Stein.
This discrepancy occurs in part because the likelihood of getting a third-party candidate elected is slim to none, due to the winner-take-all system used in U.S elections—meaning the candidate with the most votes wins every electoral vote in that state. Voting for a third-party candidate can actually hurt a major party’s chances more than people think. The Republican split in 1992 between third-party candidate Ross Perot and incumbent George H.W. Bush resulted in the election of President Bill Clinton. Then again in 2000, the Democratic party split between Ralph Nader and Al Gore, allowing George W. Bush to take office. Both of these splits resulted in the opposing major party getting elected into office, regardless of the popular vote.
One reason cited for the mass exodus to third parties this election season is the desire to send a message to the main parties and emphasize their grievances. However there is little evidence to show that this act of defiance is recognized by the major parties once they gain power, especially if third-party voters tilt the election in favor of the opposition of their former party.
The prospect of a third-party candidate splitting the vote is particularly threatening this election season. According to a recent NBC poll, third party candidates tend to draw votes away from Secretary Clinton, thus boosting the margins for Trump. If voters were looking for a year to protest vote, or to stay home from the polls, this would not be the year to do so. For a candidate like Donald Trump, who uses “the Blacks” and “the Hispanics” in order to racially other people of color, who openly talks about sexually assaulting women, who threatens the livelihood of LGBT people in the form of his Vice Presidential pick, who fuels Islamophobia and racist hate speech, to be close to the presidency in any capacity sets a dangerous precedent.
The election is closer than some voters might think, meaning every vote this November is going to count. According to the same Quinnipiac poll Clinton is currently at 41 percent, Trump at 39 percent, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson at 13 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein at 4 percent. That does not give Clinton a safe enough lead this election to ensure the nomination this November, nor does it give Clinton the landslide victory needed to show the rest of the world that the American public rejects Trump and his extremism.
The numbers are worse this election cycle for both major parties; according to USA today the number of registered voters for each party has dropped by 2.5 million across the two parties, showing widespread grievances with the two-party system, especially among the younger demographic. Without a candidate people can get excited about, the motivation to go out and vote drops considerably from the 60% voter turnout rate the U.S currently has for presidential elections. The problem is that when people choose not to vote in an election as close as this, especially when considering the fact that these voters are typically former liberal or democratic voters, they are in effect helping the GOP candidate get elected.
Reform might be what is up next for the United States electoral process, with many new proposals such as approval voting—the option to vote for more than one candidate on your ballot so that voting for a third-party does not automatically aid the opposition—coming to the forefront of discussion. For years, people have also discussed getting rid of the Electoral College system and instituting direct, proportional representation shared by most other democracies.
Until reform comes around, the U.S population faces an important decision this November about how they will use their vote. At the end of the day, the American public has a civic duty to elect the most qualified candidate to become the next President of the United States, not to reject the entire system because of how this election has turned out.