The case against voting third party

Monday, September 14, 2020 - 10:11am

–

The 2016 Democratic presidential primary saw an unprecedented battle between an accomplished political establishment member and a historically fringe politician the former barely declaring victory after months of vicious Democratic infighting. This Democratic infighting, along with the Republican nomination of political outsider Donald Trump and an unprecedented rise in the Green and Libertarian parties, garnered the highest percentage for third-party votership since Ross Perot’s run in 1996, totaling 6% for the Greens and Libertarians versus approximately 8% for Perot’s Reform Party.

Mountains of evidence including multiple reports from United States security agencies and cyber experts have indicated that the Russian government launched a social media campaign to damage Hillary Clinton’s potential voter base and help President Donald Trump get elected. Green Party Nominee Jill Stein was tweeted over 1,000 times during the height of election season by troll farms allied with Vladimir Putin. Stein-related tweets were directed at disenchanted Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., supporters, especially in swing states like Michigan. In fact, the Mueller Report states that Russian efforts to interfere in favor of Sanders started as early as the spring of 2015.

The Russian strategy worked in swing states like Michigan and Florida, helping to ensure Trump’s election. In Florida, Trump won by only 1.3% over Clinton, while Stein and Johnson garnered 2.9% combined. In Michigan, where the margin was the smallest in the United States, Trump won over Clinton by just 0.3%, barely over 10,000 votes. 4.7% combined voted for Stein and Johnson, totaling over 260,000 votes.

The bad news: Russian interference is as alive and well as it was in the last election. American intelligence cites efforts by pro-Russian groups in Ukraine to denigrate Joe Biden and boost Trump’s campaign. The good news: The Green and Libertarian parties are performing abysmally in comparison to their successes in 2016; an August Monmouth poll shows the Libertarian candidate, Jo Jorgensen, polling at only 2% nationally with the Green’s Howie Hawkins at 1%, eclipsing a 13% combined average for Johnson and Stein in August of 2016. 2016 third-party voters are backing Biden two to one, most likely due to discontent with Trump’s four years in office.

The major downfall of the Green and Libertarian tickets this election cycle is the relative weakness of their candidates. Libertarian Presidential candidate Jo Jorgensen is a fairly unknown political figure who has never garnered more than 2.2% in any election in her lifetime. Jorgensen’s running mate, Jeremy “Spike” Cohen, whose nickname was inspired by the My Little Pony movie, is a 38-year-old podcaster who pledged to fund time travel research to kill baby Woodrow Wilson. The issue becomes abundantly clear when comparing the Jorgensen and Cohen ticket to the 2016 Libertarian ticket: Gary Johnson, former two-term governor of New Mexico, and Bill Weld, former governor of Massachusetts.

Examining and contrasting the Green Party’s 2016 and 2020 tickets yields evidence of the same self-sabotage. Jill Stein was a well-known Green candidate who overwhelmingly won the Green National Convention with 81.7% of the vote, with Ajamu Baraka, founding executive director of the U.S. Human Rights Network as her Vice Presidential candidate. Howie Hawkins, the 2020 Green Presidential candidate, has run for political office over 24 times unsuccessfully and secured his nomination amid accusations of rigging the Green convention by his competitor Dario Hunter. Along with the poor choice of Angela Walker, a low-profile Green activist, as his vice president, Hawkins has repeatedly come under attack by his own base.

Consequently, any Russian effort to disperse potential Biden voters to third-party candidates this election cycle has been sabotaged by the resounding failures of the Libertarian and Green parties to nominate competent and appealing candidates, compounded with the national distaste for their perceived role in helping Trump secure the election will certainly not help their case. Those whose priorities lie in either advancing progressive policy or unseating Trump should look to the 2016 election when deciding whether to cast their ballot for the Biden and Harris ticket over the Hawkins and Walker and Jorgensen and Cohen tickets. As we saw in Michigan, margins of defeat were so low for Hillary Clinton that only a few votes at each precinct were the deciding factor in Trump’s gathering of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes. In an election as vital as this one, a protest vote for the Green Party in a swing state will yield a similar result to the 2016 election.

Kareem Rifai can be reached at krifai@umich.edu.