How to Respond to Accusations of Third Party Spoiler Votes for Trump
It’s hard being a third-party voter these days when even your friends are hostile towards you.
I was reminded of this sad fact after reading a recent post-election blog post from a friend of mine on Public Seminar, where many of us from The New School have been reflecting on the election.
Sixty million people voted for Donald Trump. They are not all inherently racist, or misogynist, or xenophobic. Yet they are very selfish (we all are probably) and subconsciously consider that white people deserve more than other communities (or deserve in spite of them) because they prioritized their own expectations of material resources or improvements in their lives over the probable marginalization and expulsion of millions of people. They privileged their prospective increase in consumption and well being vis-à-vis the massive deportation of migrants, the proscription of Muslims, the torture of terrorist suspects and their families, and the repeal of healthcare rights. Maybe one or two million people are legitimately white supremacists, but the other 58 million just do not care about others, or the long term. Why should they care about four polar bears in Greenland if they have been out of jobs for years? The same goes to all the so-called progressive left revolutionaries (many at The New School) that voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson (who I think should have dropped out of the race and supported Clinton to avoid a Trump Presidency and maybe get something out of it) in order to make a point about the problems with the two-party system or actually to have Trump elected to trigger a revolution. They are also very selfish because they first think they are an enlightened intelligentsia, and they prioritize their moral principles over the potential suffering of the communities they so much want to emancipate. Well, only privileged white (male) people that have never lived or experienced the pitfalls of revolutionary movements can afford such decisions.
You can read my initial thoughts on what to do after the election on Public Seminar, which are largely in agreement with most of what my friend argues in his piece quoted above.
It was this last claim that really troubled me, and which I am still wrestling to articulate a clear response to. This unease has to do with the implicit claim that you have to vote Democratic when the alternative is bad, which I reject as anti-democratic and philosophically problematic as a line of argument. There is also something about the tendency of Democrats to blame third party spoiler votes whenever things don’t go their way (e.g., Nader lost Gore the presidency in Florida). And I worry about unproblematic critiques of third parties that tend to give issues like voter disenfranchisement, abolishing the electoral college, or campaign finance reform little to no attention in their anti-Trump critiques. But none of these are fully formed critiques in my head yet.
To try and clear up some of those uneasy feelings I had, I started digging deeper into the election results, which are mostly official at this point, although some small numbers may still change based on local recounts, absentee ballots and the like.
I wanted to see for myself how these claims about third party voters being “very selfish” and criticisms of people who “prioritize their moral principles” over others held up to reality. Regardless of the merits of this moralistic analysis, what did the actual election data say? How important were third party voters in 2016?
I have taken the initial results of this ongoing inquiry and condensed them into the following infographic, the first in a series I hope to make as I work through the question of third party voters and the 2016 election.
Two things stood out for me once I had the data visualized on voting.
One is that both Republicans and Independents gained new voters since 2012 in almost every contested state that Clinton lost. In some cases like Florida, nearly 3% of the final vote went to third parties that had garnered nearly no support four years earlier. The other is Democrats lost voters in almost every swing state compared to 2012, with Florida (and marginally Arizona) being the exception. We know that Clinton lost most of Obama’s states in this election, but it’s not clear that this was due to third parties. That’s a point I will dwell on more in a future post.
While I’m still processing my thoughts on these issues, I wanted to at least share this infographic for others to see. Please feel free to share. If you have suggestions on how to improve it, let me know.