I mean that literally. In our current system there is no way to vote for a lesser evil. And no, it’s not because Trump and Clinton are equally evil. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Recently, there have been a lot of “I’m voting for the lesser evil” posts going around. They mostly parrot the theme that voting for anyone other than their own terrible candidate will result in the other side’s worse terrible candidate winning, and then because there’s no separation of powers in our country the whole thing will just implode or something. Now that’s an extremely wrong viewpoint, and we’ll get into why it’s so wrong, but it’s also understandable, from a certain naive perspective, as people of both political parties are trying to convince themselves it’s going to be okay to vote for one of two objectively awful candidates. The problem is, there’s simple no such thing as voting for a lesser evil. Not in the larger sense, anyway.
All this rationalizing and handwringing is natural. We as Americans, need to ask ourselves, “How did we get here?”
The answer is Lesser Evil Voting.
Lesser Evil Voters Allow Bad Candidates to Win Primaries
And let’s not beat around the bush here: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are, irrespective of politics, obviously terrible people and terrible candidates. I’m not even going to go so far as to speak of the quality of job they’ll do just yet, because we don’t really need to go beyond their candidacy, as in their ability to run for President. In a normal year, if say a Barack Obama or a Mitt Romney were running, Clinton or Trump would be losing. Badly. Hillary Clinton, as a former first lady, senator, and secretary of state, just won a close primary race against someone who didn’t even join her party until last year. That’s not the stuff of brilliant campaigners. Trump is clearly running a publicity stunt that got way, way, out of control.
How did we end up with these candidates, though? Well, according to this fascinating New York Times interactive it’s because 9% of the population, total, voted for them. That’s 4% for Trump, 5% for Clinton.
How did we get into a position where 9% of Americans decide the fate of the remaining 91%?
Well, unsurprisingly it has a lot to do with lesser evil voting. See, this five percent on either wing tends to be reactionary, unthinking, excitable, and very energetic about voting, so the candidates who appeal to them best are likely to win in the low turnout primary system. Simple as that.
Now, ideally, the people who cater to these drooling maniacs would be trounced in the general, and the parties would take big steps to limit the voice of these wings, and appeal to the majority of Americans who identify as moderates and independents. However, they’ve adopted entirely the opposite strategy, appealing to these far left and far right ideas, proliferating their divisive candidates and policies, at the expense of actually getting things done.
And that’s not hyperbole on my part, thanks to Business Insider we can watch this happen:
It’s worth noting that a polarized Congress, like today’s, is if anything more historically normal than the cooperation of the mid-to-late-Twentieth Century.
The truth is that the people in power are always winning, regardless of which party holds majorities, as long as voters stay predictably divided, but that’s a topic to flesh out some other time. For now, it’s simply important to grasp that lesser evil voters (let’s just call them LEVs from here on out) amplify this polarization by creating an environment where they’ll vote for anyone, as long as that candidate’s stated views are slightly closer to their own than the other party’s candidate. Since this same process is going on in both parties, this is virtually guaranteed.
The end result is that Americans are forced to choose between two candidates who represent their personal views very poorly.
How can we stop this?
Well, more of us could vote in the primaries, forcing one or both parties back towards the center. In fact, the best way to do this might be to register for the party you agree with the least, and vote for the primary candidate closest to you in that primary.
The biggest thing we can do, though, is deny our vote to the candidate.
And this is where the LEVs really get up to steam, right?
“Sure, Y is really terrible, but if you vote for X instead of Y then Z will WIN! And the world will END! And it will be YOUR FAULT because you threw your vote away!”
This is a hollow argument.
It’s scare tactics, and it’s stupid scare tactics, it’s a page ripped straight out of 3rd Grade Bullying for Idiots. They’re trying to scare people into voting a certain way, simple as that. The things is, there are three big holes in this theory:
- If enough people “throw their vote away”, then they won’t be throwing it away. They’ll be using their votes to change things.
- This is part of a cycle, and voting for the lesser evil this election only ensures you’ll be voting for a lesser evil next time, too, and the time after that, etc.
- If the people running the parties can’t count on your vote then they can’t take it for granted, and they’ll stop counting on using the LEVs to propel whoever is nominated into office.
Still, I understand the fear that, in a close election, voting your conscience could let someone you dislike more into office. If only there were some sort of vast electronic network which could connect people from different parties equally satisfied so they could cancel out each other’s votes–oh, right, there is. You can do that. Driving down the percentage of major party voters without changing the outcome is something that both major parties will notice. There’s a world of difference between a 46% to 45% and a 36% to 35% outcome. One’s an endorsement of business as usual, the other a wake-up call.
And we need that wake-up call.
Every short term vote for the lesser of two evils is a long term vote for two greater evils. When you vote for the perceived lesser evil, you promote the system, both sides of it, producing the lesser evil choice, and further polarize the elected representatives of our government, ensuring that next time, you’ll be voting for a slightly greater lesser evil, one way or another. If either party can count on your vote, then neither party has the slightest, tiniest, most ephemeral reason to care about you, or anything you care about.
We didn’t arrive at Trump v. Clinton suddenly, out of nowhere. We arrived here by letting LEVs control election, after election, after election, until we arrived at this place of madness. And there’s no reason to think this is as bad as it can get, if we keep on just doing as we’ve done.
So don’t let them bully you. Don’t let them control you through fear. Don’t be an LEV.