This argument has been made many times before. In 1992, when George H.W. Bush was running for reelection against Bill Clinton, Independent Candidate Ross Perot took 18.9% of the vote to Clinton’s 43% and Bush’s 37.4%. As Perot was more conservative, many blamed him and his voters for Clinton’s election as he took votes that would have traditionally gone Republican. (Assuming that these voters would not have just stayed home…) In 1996 he took 8.4% of the vote, the approximate margin between Clinton and Dole.
In the very tight 2000 election, wherein Bush lost the popular vote but carried the Electoral College, Ralph Nader took 2.74% of the popular vote and is often cited as the reason Gore did not win. (Nader had over 100,000 votes in Florida, which could have altered the electoral count… Again, making the assumption that people would still have turned out…)
Now, in 2016 we have two statistically important third party candidates. Libertarian Gary Johnson is polling at just over 8% as of this morning. Green Party Jill Stein is just over 3%. Assuming that Johnson voters would be more likely to vote Republican and Stein voters would be more Democrat, it could be easily argued that Trump’s campaign is at more risk for third party spoiler than Clinton’s. (Yet again, assuming all would turn out, which they wouldn’t…)
So are third party “spoilers” bad? Are you really “throwing away” your vote? I would argue these statements, often made by politicos, are short sighted. For better or worse, popular third party candidates force the major party candidates to address issues which are important to voters and have important long term legacies. Perot’s message of populism and fiscal conservatism resonated with many people and was a predecessor of the Tea Party movement. Nader did and continues to influence environmental politics.
This is the fifth presidential election I am eligible to vote in. In 2000, I heard the media expound on how this was “the most important” election in a lifetime. Heard the same thing in 2004… and 2008… and 2012… and again now in 2016. I hate Trump, but does that mean Hillary has earned my vote?
The reality is the major parties are not serving our needs. This has happened before, and sometimes political parties die or are forced to dramatically evolve when they can no longer mobilize voters. Abe Lincoln won the 1860 election as a “third party” candidate and changed the course of American history, so these movements are not meaningless. It is not selfish to vote one’s conscience, especially not in the long run. A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.