2016 Is The Year Of The Third Party

If you aren’t familiar with Professor Lawrence Lessig, you should be. He has been a key advocate for campaign finance reform. He made a run for the 2016 Presidency on the Democratic ticket as a “reformation candidate” promising to step down and hand the reigns to his VP upon securing reforms to campaign finance laws.

Figure 1: Third Party Presidential Candidates

Lessig is among the people who encouraged Bernie Sanders to run for President long before Sanders decided to enter the race. Lessig also played a part in convincing Sanders to add campaign finance reform to his Presidential platform. Sanders in turn forced Hillary Clinton to go on record in support of campaign finance reform.

I’ve held Lessig in high esteem since my introduction to his teachings on the desecration of Copyright law nearly twenty years ago. I tend to agree with his outlook on a great many things. Recently, Lessig came out against supporting third party Presidential candidates. He quotes Robert Reich as saying:

“ There’s a time to fight to reform the DNC. It is not in the middle of a struggle for the Republic.”

I disagree. I am in disagreement with every argument I’ve encountered that advocates the necessity of voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

Allow me to walk you through a logical, rational, and analytical explanation of why.

The United States has a long held stigma against voting for third party Presidential candidates that permeates the public conscience. As a nation, we have become convinced that a third party President is not possible or viable. When we think like this, it creates a vicious cycle that keeps us locked into our two-party system.

There is a constant list of reasons that get stuck in our minds of why a third party could never happen in the United States:

  • Fearing one candidate more than the other (risk aversion disguised as pragmatism)
  • Voting third party means spoiling for the perceived lesser-evil candidate (irrational)
  • Voting third party is a “protest vote” (false narrative)
  • Third parties aren’t on the ballot in enough states (the Libertarians are)
  • A third party cannot get enough votes to win (self fulfilling prophecy)
  • Third parties aren’t widely known (half true)

But the only real reason we are stuck with our two-party system is because we believe that we are stuck with it.

Let’s go point by point, beginning with the one which addresses the fear inherent in Lessig and Reich’s thinking.

Fearing one candidate more than the other

This is risk aversion disguised as pragmatism. We are faced with the two least favored Presidential candidates in the history of the United States. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are disliked, distrusted, and even feared.

This is a direct consequence of our two-party system, and our A or B approach to voting. As long as we remain locked into the mindset of only having a choice of Democrat or Republican, the two major parties have zero incentive to offer anything better.

As long as we allow fear to dictate who we choose, the candidates will continue to get worse. Fear has become the strategy. It worked to pass the unconstitutional Patriot Act, and now it is being used by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to drive us towards one based in an irrational fear of the other.

That Reich fears we are “in the middle of a struggle for the Republic” is an assumption. An assumption that is so focused on what is immediately in front of us that it is blinded to the greater risk that it will happen again and again until we muster the courage to stop it by electing third party Presidential candidates, and replace Plurality voting with a Range voting system.

If now is not the time to vote for a third party Presidential candidate when our choices between Democrats and Republicans have never been worse, we have already truly surrendered the Republic. Voluntarily.

This is exactly the time for a third party candidate because now is when it is most needed.

Figure 2: Range voting

Is there any hypothetical scenario you can think of where you could see yourself voting for the Libertarian or Green party? If the United States had a four-party system, and the Libertarians and the Greens were ahead in the polls over Democrats and Republicans, and the four parties were all over the news who would you vote for?

If we had a four-party system with Range voting which removes the risk of voting for your values, would Clinton or Trump be your first choice?

Can you picture a hypothetical scenario where you felt you could vote outside of the Democratic or Republican candidates? If so, you are not voting for your values, but against your fears.

If you are voting for Clinton or Trump this year because you researched all the candidates and genuinely support their political history and platform, then I applaud you for voting your conscience. But if you are motivated by fear of Clinton or Trump and plan to vote to stop them by voting for the other, know that you are perpetuating the vicious cycle that got us here in the first place.

Voting third party means spoiling for the perceived lesser-evil candidate

This is irrational thinking. It is based on a false assumption that we can masterfully predict other people’s behavior and choice of candidate. The idea that Ralph Nader spoiled the 2000 Presidential election for Al Gore is based on the assumption that the votes for Nader would have otherwise gone to Gore. It is a faulty premise which has since been debunked.

Third party candidates attract votes from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, as well as attract first time voters, and voters that would otherwise chosen to abstain.

We have no control over any vote but our own and no reliable method to predict how other people will vote. That includes so-called experts who were convinced that Donald Trump would not receive enough votes to secure the nomination.

Since the only vote we can control or predict is our own, we should vote for the candidate who best represents our values and then do something scary: let the election unfold as it pleases with or without our consent or approval.

Once the results are in and a candidate has won, like them or not, our only responsibility — our only culpability, is in who we personally voted for.

Voting third party is a “protest vote”

This is a false narrative. From a logical standpoint, the very definition of a “protest vote” is reliant upon either inaccurate assessment or intentional deception.

In the academic paper A Theory of Protest Voting (PDF) by David P. Myatt, Myatt posits:

“ In a two-horse-race election, a voter’s incentives seem straightforward: he should vote for his favorite candidate.”

While the above quote is the correct start, Myatt immediately launches into describing motivations and scenarios which he later fails to empirically support and which are incongruent with the simple truth of the above quote. He backs himself into a corner by repeatedly claiming that third parties have one-issue platforms. For anyone that has investigated the positions of Libertarian Gary Johnson, or Green Jill Stein, it is easily apparent that this is untrue. Do not confuse my critique as illegitimizing all merit to Myatt’s paper, but he fails to support the primary objective of the paper’s title. It is simply assumed that the idea of “protest voting” is accepted without any due diligence to show empirical data which supports the idea that “protest voting” is an actual human behavior or motivation. It is a lengthy paper based on a false narrative where Myatt admits:

“ Nevertheless, there are relatively few theoretical models of protest voting.”

To understand the logic of why it is a false narrative, we begin by looking at the ideal scenario of the two-party system: that Democrats and Republicans each offer candidates and platforms that have broad appeal to their base constituencies. In doing so, voters values are met within the options provided by the two major parties and voters can vote for the candidate whose platform is consistent with their values.

The premise of a “protest vote” assumes people’s values are met by voting either Democrat or Republican. For voting third party to qualify as a “protest vote” (read: temper tantrum vote), third party voters would need to vote against their values.

If third party voters wanted to vote against their values to “protest” a Democrat or Republican, they could stay within the two-party system and simply vote for the opposing choice. But that is not how people align with third parties.

Third party voters tend to vote for the candidate that best represents their values. They vote outside the two major parties because their needs have not been met, and possibly because they hold grave concerns about the available choices provided by Democrats and Republicans.

Simply put, a third party vote does not fit the logical criteria necessary to qualify as a “protest vote”.

Third parties aren’t on the ballot in enough states

Figure 3: Libertarian Ballot Access Map for 2012 Election (image source)

The Libertarian party is on the 2016 General election ballot in 35 states as of July 15th, 2016 and should have most of the 50 states by November as evidenced by previous election years such as 2012 where they had 48 states and the District of Columbia. (Please see updates at end of this article.)

Figure 4: Libertarian Ballot Access Map as of July 15th, 2016

Seen at top-left (Figure 3) is the 2012 map of Libertarian ballot access where the only two states that were unsecured were Michigan and Oklahoma. The darker states denote stronger support. The strongest states were New Mexico, Montana, Alaska, and Wyoming. It is important to note that while Libertarian values tend to be more in sync with Republicans, that the strongest state of New Mexico is considered a Blue state, and is one of the states won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Primaries. Libertarians are also strong in the Blue state of Maine.

Bottom-left (Figure 4) is the most recent map showing the current status of Libertarian party ballot access for the 2016 election. Again, the Blue states of New Mexico and Maine are already on the Ballot. (Please see updates at end of this article.)

Figure 5: Green Ballot Access Map for 2012 Election (image source)
Figure 6: Green Ballot Access Map as of July 7th, 2016. (6 more states added as of 8/02)

The Green party is on the 2016 General election ballot in 23 states and the District of Columbia as of July 7th, 2016. (Update: As of 8/02, 6 more states added.) According to Jill Stein, she expects to be on “90 to 95 percent” of ballots after petitions in time for the General election in November. (Please see updates at end of this article.)

Shown to the left (Figure 5) is the 2012 map of Green party ballot access where they had 35 states and the District of Columbia. The darker states denote stronger support. The strongest states were Maine, Oregon, Alaska, and Arkansas. It is important to note that while Green values tend to be more in sync with Democrats, that Alaska and Arkansas, two of the strongest states are Red states.

Bottom-left (Figure 6) is the most recent map showing the current status of Green party ballot access for the 2016 election. (As of 8/02, 6 states added including Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.) (Please see updates at end of this article.)

Thanks to the record high unfavorables of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, there has been a giant increase of interest in third parties. Polling shows that around half of Bernie Sanders 13 million supporters are Bernie or Bust, and as of the DNC convention, most of those will be looking to the Green Party where Jill Stein’s platform most closely reflects the values of Sanders’ core constituency.

Figure 7: Jill Stein polls at 55.5% after DNC

The adversarial approach of Correct the Record and David Brock’s Million Dollar Trolls influencing Clinton’s online supporters to be hostile and divisive has increased the size of the Bernie or Bust movement, and has alienated voters who may not identify themselves as Bernie or Bust, but will look outside the Democratic party nonetheless. Clinton’s own hostility and contempt towards Sanders, his supporters, and aggressive rejection of Sanders’ platform has also driven voters towards the Green party.

The combined email leaks of the Guccifer2 hack and the Wikileaks hack showing the the behind-the-scenes activity of the DNC to undermine Sanders created the DemExit movement which not only refuses to vote for Clinton, but has vowed to leave the Democratic party. What political party Demexit will turn to in future elections remains to be seen, but for now they are mostly looking to the Green party.

The Green party has been flooded with an unprecedented increase of donations and volunteers with the same Grassroots ground game they learned while canvassing and phone banking for Sanders.

The Green party is bound to secure 2016 ballot access in more states than in any previous year and may catch up to the Libertarian party thanks to Bernie or Bust and DemExit.

Ultimately it will come down to Electoral College votes. Presidential candidates need 270 Electoral College votes to win, and while more states improves odds of winning, the majority of Electoral College states in the General election are winner take all.

Both the Libertarians and the Greens have enough Electoral College votes to surpass 270, and no election year prior to 2016 was ever more ripe for that to happen.

A third party cannot get enough votes to win

This is a self fulfilling prophecy, and there is no logic in it. Never has this idea held less weight than in 2016.

Figure 8: 2016 Electoral College Votes & Swing States

As of mid July, the Libertarians have 35 states with a combined 340 Electoral College votes, while the Greens have 23 states and the District of Columbia with a combined 328 Electoral College votes. (As of 8/02, the Greens have 29 states plus DC with a combined 386 Electoral College votes.) Since 270 votes are required to win, and both parties are well over 270, it is possible. (Please see updates at end of this article.)

The question then becomes not if it is possible, but if it is probable. Forecasting in previous election years would indicate that it is not probable for a third party to win, but no previous election has seen such historically unfavorable candidates in the major parties, such unrest and discontent in continuing the status-quo, such a surge of interest in third parties, or more people looking outside their usual party allegiances. To be accurate and reliable, predictions must be based in what is known and in what has happened before.

Never before have we had an election with sufficient comparable factors to match the spectrum of influences at play. The 2016 election cannot be forecasted.

Third parties aren’t widely known

This is half true. This is largely a matter of media coverage. Specifically mainstream corporate media.

It was not always like this. Those old enough to remember the presidential runs of third party candidates H. Ross Perot, and Ralph Nader know that both candidates were given much more coverage as compared to modern third party candidates. Coverage in mainstream corporate media (MSM) has become so biased that even though Bernie Sanders ran under the Democratic ticket and according to official tallies earned 46% of delegates in the Democratic Primaries, he only received a fraction of the MSM coverage as compared to Clinton and Trump.

(Nomiki appears to have incorrectly quoted the percentage of delegates. The correct percentage was 45.6%.)

Thanks to the Internet and alternative media platforms, third parties still have mediums to get their message out and to make their platforms and positions known. Depending on what metrics you look at and how you weigh their importance, it has been noted that online viewership of The Young Turks and Secular Talk rate as high or better than MSM. The fact is, digital media has a very significant audience size.

The Presidential debates have a broad reach and are covered and analyzed well after they have ended. Third party candidates need to reach 15% in national polls to be included in the debates. Naturally it is of critical importance that the Libertarians and Greens hit or exceed that 15% polling mark to reach the broadest audience possible, and to demonstrate their viability as real contenders in the Presidential races.

As of early June, Gary Johnson is already polling nationally at 12%, and as high as 23% from self-identified independents. Jill Stein’s polling numbers have been lower, but whether she receives a surge in her polling numbers after the conventions remains to be seen.

“Pollsters contacted by The Hill… caution that the volatility of the race and the low favorability ratings for both candidates mean anything is possible.”

Ordinary people content to watch past elections unfold have been converted to activists, homegrown journalists, and self styled marketers getting their message out to any and all who will listen. I cannot stress enough how different the dynamics of the 2016 election are. The metrics are demonstrating the impact ordinary people are having on the conversation.

The message is clear. 2016 is the year of the third party. Heed it’s call or surrender your nation’s identity by ignoring it.

— Antyal


Update (August 29th, 2016)

Updated map of Libertarian ballot access as of Aug 25th
Updated map of Green Party ballot access as of Aug 26th

As of the end of August, the Libertarians have 44 states and the District of Columbia with a combined 496 out of a total of 538 Electoral College votes, while the Greens have 36 states and the District of Columbia with a combined 429 Electoral College votes. Remember: 270 electoral votes are required to win, and both parties are well over 270.

Both the Libertarian and Green parties are either still awaiting confirmation of access for petitioned states or are actively pushing for ballot access in states that have yet to be secured.


You can find Antyal Tennyson on Twitter under the handle @AntyalT.