There can be only two

Clay Shirky argues that there’s no such thing as a protest vote:

Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as “voting your conscience”, but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people. Citizens who vote for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, or nobody aren’t voting their conscience, they are voting their ego, unable to accept that a system they find personally disheartening actually applies to them.

I could argue, I suppose, that voting for one of the two major-party psychopaths would “hurt other people,” because no matter which one wins, we lose, but that’s not really what Shirky wants, is it?

None of this creates an obligation to vote, or to vote for one of the two viable candidates. It is, famously, a free country, and you can vote for anyone you like, or for no one. But if you do, don’t kid yourself — and certainly don’t try to kid anyone else — that you are creating some kind of positive political change. Noisily opting out as a way of demonstrating your pique is an understandable human act. It’s just not a political act. It’s an elaborate way of making the rest of us do the work of deciding.

Some of us are persuaded that human acts need not be judged by their political impact. The doofus who came up with “The personal is political” has done more damage to our culture than either of our Officially Nominated Grifters.

(Via Sheila Scarborough.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    10 August 2016 · 1:58 pm

    I still think we need a “None of the above” choice. A “go back and get us some better candidates” choice. I know I’ll never see it, but I wish we had it.

    And I utterly, utterly loathe the “personal is always political” idea. I presume those people who believe it figure a cigar is ALWAYS a penis.

  2. Francis W. Porretto »

    10 August 2016 · 2:19 pm

    The whole “throwing away your vote” schtick is an enormous canard. The only one I know that compares to it is the “right to vote.”

    Political parties are devices for getting their candidates elected. To do so, they must know why people are voting for andagainst them. One of the most important of all mechanisms for learning this is the array of minor parties and candidates that pull small percentages of the total vote.

    Let’s imagine that 10% of the total vote in November goes to the Libertarian ticket. It hasn’t happened before, but there’s a slender possibility that it will this year. That’s vital information to the GOP. It means that had their platform and candidate been somewhat more freedom-oriented, he’d have had a better chance of winning. Without the LP ticket and persons who find it more attractive than the GOP’s ticket, there would have been no trustworthy indicator.

    But the usual argument against voting for a minor-party candidate is that “he has no chance to win!” This, too, is balderdash. Any candidate can win; it’s a matter of how many people vote for him. If you assume a priori that only the major party candidates can win, you’re helping to guarantee exactly that.

    Behind every aspect of the canard is this: the person railing against your vote for a third-party candidate has a candidate he prefers. If his guy loses, and the margin of victory is smaller than the number of votes that go to a third-party candidate, he’ll fume about how the third-party candidate “stole” votes from his guy. But his guy didn’t own those votes, as much as he wanted them. He simply failed to earn them — and this is America; you can’t claim to own something simply because you want it, no matter how much.

    Minor parties are likely to be especially important to both the major parties this year. The GOP will watch the LP and the Constitution Party. The Democrats will watch the Greens. And no matter who “wins,” both parties will learn something they arguably need to know.

  3. Brett »

    10 August 2016 · 3:39 pm

    I’m going to vote for a flawed candidate who I think would likely make a mediocre president because he is, so far, the only person on the ballot in that race who has not demonstrated that he is unfit for the office by virtue of his character or lack thereof. That’s pretty much all my vote is going to communicate.

    If he later exhibits the same lack, then I guess I’ll leave that line blank.

  4. fillyjonk »

    10 August 2016 · 5:48 pm

    I think we all need “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos” t-shirts.

  5. McG »

    10 August 2016 · 6:52 pm

    Just as the bad consequences of irresponsible sex don’t justify free and unfettered access to abortion after the fact, the bad consequences of irresponsible voting during the primary season don’t justify trying to shame me into voting for a flatulent orangutan in November.

  6. Roger Green »

    10 August 2016 · 7:49 pm

    I’ve voted 3 times for a third party, once for a write-in for President. I think the former is strategic; it gets counted. I think the write-in is a waste, because, except in the aggregate, it generally does NOT get counted. I’ve been trying to nag the would-be Bernie write-ins to vote for Stein or Johnson or some 5th party candidate

  7. Chuck Pergiel »

    11 August 2016 · 5:49 am

    Francis has the right of it.

  8. Monday evening »

    12 August 2016 · 7:16 pm

    Three links

    I can never remember whether Kang is the racist and Kodos is the hitler, or if it’s the other way around.

  9. ETat »

    13 August 2016 · 4:49 pm

    …and again, I agree with Francis.
    What’s wrong with me lately?!?

    To add my $.2: voting for a third party is not throwing my vote away, it is VOTING. How else am I supposed to express my political opinion? I am the voice of the people – and if people are divided, so are the votes.

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