My argument, after the jump
[there was an ongoing discussion about the value of voting for third party candidates. I had mentioned previously that it was irrational and someone took offense to that.]
I stand by my remarks that voting for someone you absolutely know has no chance of winning is irrational. I don't mean it as a personal assault on anyone, and I hesitate to even talk about this in this forum because it's kind of a nice corner of the internet where people get along, but I challenged myself this year to engage in a hopefully rational and mature way in political discussions rather than sitting them out for the sake of politeness or a sense of futility. The stakes are too high. So please take my remarks with that spirit.
I'm going to carefully set aside, in the manner of one holding a ticking bomb, the notion that the two candidates in this election are so similarly terrible that there's no point in trying to choose one over the other. I don't even know how to rationally deal with that concept, and I might just start weeping and day drinking instead. So just looking at the idea of "Why is it irrational to vote for a third party candidate?" in the abstract:
An election is not an abstraction upon which you are tasked with expressing yourself. It's a real thing with real outcomes determined by simple math. It's an imperfect process that needs to be improved. Whether you think it's a political party issue, a spending issue, a time issue, a media issue, an Electoral College issue, or all of the above, most of us can agree we have an electoral process in serious need of process improvement. But the improvements do not happen on Election Day.
We effect change in this country by working within the system. Sure, you can drop a bomb in Times Square and Congress will react, but lasting positive change is usually incremental.
We know that we don't effect change by posting on forums how much we wish this country was more Libertarian or socialist or that all of our drinking water would suddenly taste like Skittles and birth control or there would be federal funding for a TNR program for rapey varsity athletes. We also know that we don't effect change by casting a secret ballot for someone who is not even on the boards enough to be in a debate. People who vote for third party candidates do not think their candidate is going to win.
Decade after decade people support this or that third party candidate. I'm semi-old, so I remember the passion people had about Ross Perot; I remember Nader. I remember feeling so frustrated and silent when my well-meaning leftie-liberal-poet-vegetarian friends voted Nader "as a statement." I voted Gore, who seemed like a boring but safe candidate, and we watched Gore win the election and lose the White House, and the eight years of what happened after that, the denouement of which was a worldwide economic collapse. Fast forward 14 years and I saw Gore on a book tour in a church in Seattle and the man was so fired up about his issues he brought the house down, and he was obviously still in pain about losing the 2000 election and the impacts that had on the world. This is part of why I am so much more vocal this time.
We have a historical female major party candidate this year. Did you know a woman has run for president before? The first female candidate for President was in 1872! Maybe you don't, because she wasn't a major party candidate.
I don't agree with [another forum user] that a third party influencing politics on the national level is impossible. It's too complex to get into on my already TL;DR post, but it's not something that's ever going to happen on Election day and it's not something that's going to start on the national level. If people seriously want to have a "more than two party" system they need to engage starting the day AFTER Election day and work toward something for next time.
But really, I suspect people who say they are going to protest vote for third parties aren't really that interested in the grinding gears or blood, sweat and tears of political change; they are interested in making sure their values are expressed.
I'll say it again. An election is not an abstraction upon which you are tasked with expressing yourself. Thinking that way takes away the one tiny modicum of real power citizens have in this process.
One of two people will win the 2016 Presidential election: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Neither Gary Johnson or Jill Stein will be our next President. We'll get our ballots and see a small cast of weirdos listed on it that we haven't even heard of before and none of them has a snowball's chance in hell of being elected either, just like Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and Victoria Woodull were never going to be President. Taking away your own power is working against your own self-interest. Working against your own self-interest, while also knowing the outcome will not change anything for anyone else, is irrational.
Please ignore this message if you are vascillating between Trump and Gary Johnson. Obviously that's the one case where voting for a third party candidate makes sense. ;)