The incredibly contentious 2020 presidential election has seemingly fractured the nation along party lines yet again. Nearly every citizen seems entrenched in backing their candidate and their preferred party. However, seeing the United States along a stark red and blue divide is not only dangerous but also inaccurate. Between this divide, typically overlooked options exist, and it’s time for Americans to reconsider these options and think about voting third party.
As of Nov. 3, former Vice President Joe Biden is polling at 52% nationwide, with President Donald Trump trailing behind at 43%. While he may be down in the presidential polls, Trump boasts an approval rating of 52% as of Oct. 22. A myriad of explanations might account for this discrepancy: the polls could be inaccurate, people who approve of Trump may be more likely to vote for third party candidates or voters may be unsure of their final decision. In 2016, nearly 5% of voters voted for third party candidates. As a whole, this data suggests that the American political landscape is much more complex, personal and fickle than many voters assume.
However, this data, though difficult to interpret, represents healthy internal discussion about voting. A vote should not be dictated by false dichotomies that see morality and intelligence along the red-blue divide but by personal ideology.
Voters should not be discouraged from voting for a candidate that more accurately represents their personal principles and political values. A voter concerned about the environment should consider endorsing the Green Party. A voter who supports governmental deregulation should consider endorsing the Libertarian Party. A voter who supports pro-life causes and environmental regulation should endorse the American Solidarity Party.
Often, in states where the Electoral College votes predictably, individual votes for the two major parties carry less impact — a Republican vote in California and a Democratic vote in Texas will not sway the course of an election. Nonetheless, a third party vote can express a desire for more specific policy change, ultimately empowering the voter to have a louder voice than they would otherwise.
However, voters in swing states like Ohio and Florida typically have a more direct effect on the outcome of each election. In these states, voting for a major party candidate would empower the vote more effectively, making third party voting less attractive but still an option.
Another credible reason to vote for a third-party candidate is to avoid endorsing someone with tremendous personal or political baggage. Both Trump and Biden have allegedly sexually assaulted women. The false moral dichotomies commonly associated with political parties encourage party members to look past a party’s candidate flaws while condemning the other side. Although there is nothing wrong with settling for an imperfect candidate if a voter aligns with the values the candidate represents, voting third party is a viable alternative.
Critics often call third party voters selfish.
“Honestly I feel the most betrayed by my white liberal friends who voted third party. You knew what was at stake and were selfish,” writer Akilah Hughes tweeted following the 2016 presidential election.
Similar narratives suggest that voting third party is simply another vote for Trump (if the critic is liberal) or Biden (if the critic is conservative). And though these concerns have some validity, they illustrate the problematic contradictions of the two major parties dictating acceptable civic engagement.
Voting is a tremendous responsibility in a democracy. Common narrative should not force voters into voting for a major party candidate in spite of personal principles. Our democracy functions best when a variety of viewpoints are represented in the voting process. George Washington agreed with this sentiment. In his farewell address, he discouraged the two-party system and wanted to warn the new republic “against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.”
Ultimately, voting should be a personal act born from personal convictions. The beliefs of a major party supporter should never be forced upon a free-thinking voter who disagrees with the major party candidate, either morally or politically. If the American people continue to support third-party candidates, eventually the two-party system will be weakened. This may allow for a strong third party candidate to emerge as an actual contender for the presidency, or force both the Democratic and Republican parties to adopt more moderate views to appease voters that have fled the extremist binary of the current system.
As it is, the American political landscape is not as binary as it appears. Vote this election, but remember there are more than two options.
Emily Anderson is a staff writer for New University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.