Why not voting for Clinton doesn’t mean you’re voting for Trump
After their candidate came so close in the Democratic primary only to fall short, supporters of Bernie Sanders are now faced with a decision in the upcoming presidential election. Do they settle for Hillary Clinton’s vision of incremental progress so as to defeat the bigotry of Donald Trump? Or do they hold true to their ideals and cast a vote for a third-party candidate who advocates for true progressive change, such as Green Party nominee Jill Stein?
Aware of the possibility of progressive voters casting ballots for Stein, Clinton supporters have argued a vote for anyone other than Clinton is tantamount to voting for Trump. In invoking this argument, Clintonites are claiming the spoiler effect — in which, in this case, a progressive third party candidate siphons support from the Democratic nominee — may lead to a Trump presidency.
Stein and the Green Party inadvertently helping elect Trump is a very real concern. And it should be obvious to any progressive voter that Clinton is far superior to Trump. But for progressive voters dissatisfied with Clinton’s commitment to a hawkish foreign policy, neoliberal policies and the politics of incrementalism, there is another option — one that circumvents the spoiler effect.
In the 2012 presidential election, the electoral votes of 42 states were won by a margin of five points or more. A similar result is likely in 2016. As of Oct. 1, only 10 states — Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, Georgia, Iowa, and Arizona— are projected to be decided by fewer than five percentage points, according to poll-based predictions by the site FiveThirtyEight. The electoral votes of the other 40 states, and the District of Columbia, will be won easily by Clinton or Trump.
This means in those 40 states where the result will not be close, progressive voters dissatisfied with Clinton can vote for a left-wing third party candidate, such as Stein, and not worry about throwing that state’s electoral votes to Trump. In the remaining 10 states that are projected to be close, progressives should vote for Clinton to ensure Trump is not elected.
The advantage of this electoral strategy, known as safe state voting, is that a left-wing party like the Green Party gains increased viability by garnering more votes than it typically would when voters believe they must choose the lesser of two evils. Additionally, Stein and the Green Party would avoid the moniker of spoiler that was hung around the neck of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader after the 2000 presidential election.
Clintonites may argue that polls can be wrong and deciding who to vote for based off them is risky. But in 2012, Nate Silver — the founder of FiveThirtyEight — was able to predict which state would vote for which candidate with 100 percent precision, showing that reliable predictions of electoral results can be made.
It is also possible that the Bernie or Bust crowd will dislike safe state voting since it doesn’t advocate voting for a third party or writing in Sanders’s name in all cases. It is true that safe state voting is not an ideal solution. But the reality is that a Trump victory would set the progressive movement back decades. Safe state voting ensures that progressives voting for Stein won’t play a role in electing a racist demagogue while also allowing voters in 80 percent of states to retain the freedom to vote for the candidate they most identify with.
With that said, it must also be pointed out that safe state voting is not a sustainable fix to the problems posed by the two-party system and that it won’t lead to the election of a candidate outside that structure. Progressives, and others dissatisfied with the two party system, cannot be content with simply casting a protest vote every four years and relying on a safe state voting strategy to ensure the results of the election don’t skew toward conservative candidates.
Instead, progressives should use safe state voting in this election, but prepare to build the political strength needed to never have to use it again. They must mobilize, maintaining the momentum and political activism spurred by the Sanders campaign, and get involved in politics — from the presidential all the way down to their local elections. Every race, from the school board on up, should include a progressive candidate advocating left-wing solutions to the problems facing society. Progressives should also prepare to put political pressure on Clinton if she wins the presidency. They must ensure that the pledges extracted from her during the primary by public opinion and the pressure of the Sanders campaign are honored.
Ultimately though, the solution to the box the two-party system puts leftists into is not just to organize progressive political energy, but also to put that political power toward reforming a system that allows a third party candidate to “spoil” elections in the first place. Implementing instant runoff voting is one example of a change that would ensure the spoiler effect is not a factor in elections to come.
But the sad reality is that such a reform, and others like it, are little more than pipedreams at this point. Democrats and Republicans would never let these kinds of measures go through, as to do so could lead to the destruction of their monopoly on political power.
So until progressives can mobilize enough of their own political power to enact the needed reforms, we’re stuck with half solutions like safe state voting. But in the situation we find ourselves in now, stuck between a neo-liberal and a neo-fascist, it’s the best option we’ve got.
Evan Popp is a third-year journalism major who is glad he’ll be voting in New York. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.