Now is not the right time to vote for third parties
© Moriah Ratner

The desire to vote for a third-party candidate is understandable since the current election campaign has unequivocally ventured outside the political culture of the traditional Republican-Democratic party duopoly. The timing of such a vote at this moment in U.S. politics is counterproductive, and high expectations for third-party candidates are unrealistic.

Since two-party American politics began in the 1860s, all third-party candidates have suffered crushing defeats. Not one captured a single state, except for segregationist Governor George Wallace in 1968. 

When Trump threatened to run as a third-party candidate, pundits pointed out that he would split the Republican vote in favor of the Democrats. In general, third-party candidates are considered spoilers, often helping elect mainstream candidates opposed to beliefs of third-party candidates and voters.

Jill Stein (Green Party) and Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonThe Trump strategy: Dare the Democrats to win Trump challenger: 'All bets are off' if I win New Hampshire primary Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE (Libertarian), the two main third-party candidates in 2016, are united, albeit in different ways, in their opposition to current corporate capitalism, which they see as the root of social and political ills.

Can the Stein and Johnson reverse the historical legacy of third parties American politics?

This presidential election reinforces the need for a third party and, indeed, has broadened the constituency in its support. Trump and Clinton are unpopular candidates inside and outside of their parties, both trapped in their parties’ cultures and that of corporate capitalism — toxic for any candidate aspiring for an equitable and environmentally sustainable just social order.

While moral and political arguments can be made in favor of not voting for either Clinton or Trump, our exercise of moral judgement ought to be responsible for the common good of the society. Our votes during this election should not succumb to self-gratifying dogmatic morality that dismisses contextually specific, socially responsible morality.

Stein and Johnson have no chance of winning even a single electoral vote. Yet third-party supporters argue that their votes now are a necessary starting point to expand the social base for a future victory that now is the right time to begin breaking the barriers established by mainstream political parties.

The third parties contesting the 2016 election have no consolidated support base at the grassroots. Moreover, they do not have a support base among marginalized minorities and have not attempted to reach out to these communities.

In general, third-party candidates appear during elections only to disappear from the public scene soon after. They fail to aggressively build a broad-based grassroots support base, as do the mainstream parties — a base critical in breaking the financial and social barriers preventing them from participating in mainstream politics. 

They ignore the elaborate administrative mechanisms rested on robust counter-hegemonic ideological, economic, and institutional foundations necessary to govern a large and complicated democracy such as the United States.

Stein and Johnson have given no sign that they are committed to an anti-corporatist agenda in any meaningful way.

Stein, a Harvard-trained physician, appeals to the disgruntled Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' Warren says she will unveil plan to finance 'Medicare for All' Ocasio-Cortez says endorsing Sanders early is 'the most authentic decision' she could make MORE fans and collegiate left, urging them to “to keep the revolution going,” but does not have a clear anti-corporatist ideology or agenda.

Stein’s rhetoric — decentralization, community control and local autonomy, green investments, and diverse ownership — promotes the illusion that “an alternative economic system” exists that does not challenge the core of corporate capitalism.

Stein has “invested $995,011 to $2.2 million in funds in [a] Vanguard 500 funds that have stakes in Exxon and other energy companies like Chevron, Duke Energy, ConocoPhillips, and Toho Gas, a Japanese company that engages in the sale of natural gas, tar, and coke, a fuel made from coal.”  Her revealed tax returns raise many questions like those of Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE.

Johnson, an ex-marijuana CEO, is a free market fundamentalist who opposes Sanders’ progressive agenda. His wants to free capitalists from government control, which he mistakenly holds responsible for corrupting capitalism: freedom from government is necessary to further unfettered capitalism, ensures equal opportunity, and unleashes perfect competition.

No third-party candidate has a coherent ideology or unifying subject through which to consolidate the diverse anti-establishment political groups scattered throughout society. The popular legitimacy of corporate capitalism thrives on marginalizing third-party candidates by appropriating the third-party candidates’ own language and practices.

Johnson and Stein mistakenly think corporate capitalism is a corrupt form of capitalism, which can be redefined and restructured. All such attempts during the past decade have failed and only help to consolidate capitalist expansion under Democrats and Republicans.

Consequently, they help the two main parties to project the public dissent against economic issues to the ill-conceived notion of the ‘big government’ rather than against capitalism. Capitalism has been the main beneficiary of both big and small governments depending on its needs at given moment in time.

Building a future for an anti-capitalist third party is first and foremost about building a movement. Such a long-term project needs to begin with a clear anti-capitalist ideology and mass grassroots involvement. Counter-corporatist ideologies and practices need to evolve and then move on to the national stage with the national politics drawing strength from the grassroots.

Today’s third parties cannot break out of the trap of ‘lesser evilism’ (i.e. voting for a lesser evil mainstream party) because they are neither ideologically nor organizationally positioned to do this, hence simply are they ‘spoilers’ without a purpose.

The bitter experience of war in Iraq when Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold Gore2020 general election debates announced Odds place Greta Thunberg as front-runner for this year's Nobel Peace Prize Joe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia MORE’s apparent victory allegedly challenged by Ralph Nader’s candidacy was a hard lesson for voters. The war contributed toward the virtually irreversible current economic, political, and social crises.

A vote for a third party at this moment, to use Evan Blake’s words, is “a dead-end political strategy of nihilism,” a strategy that will only help elect the candidate most hostile to meaningful progressive politics.

Fernando, Ph.D., is professor, Department of International Development, Community and Environment, at Clark University (Worcester, Massachusetts).


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