But what if third-party-curious Americans who stop themselves because they're averse to "throwing away their vote" took a more strategic approach to their role as voters? If you aren't crazy about the Republican or Democrat, but think of your vote from a utilitarian perspective and are uninterested in purely symbolic gestures, here's how to impact presidential elections in two easy steps:
1) Postpone your calculated support for someone you don't like until you're standing in the election booth. Before then, support the third-party nominee you'd like to see win. If a pollster asks who you support give their name, not the major-party candidate you may wind up voting for in the end. Doing so doesn't squander your vote on someone who won't win, but could be the difference between a Libertarian or Green Party candidate being included or excluded from TV debates.
2) Think about whether or not you live in a swing state. If so, maybe it makes more sense to vote Republican or Democrat. But if you live in a state like California, where the Democrat will obviously win, or a state like Utah where the Republican is obviously going to win, your vote is going to have a lot more impact if you're part of a third-party surge that signals disaffection to others.
These two strategies make sense partly because a third-party needn't win or even swing an election to make a difference. Neither the Green nor the Libertarian parties are likely to ever win the presidency. But that needn't be the goal. If Republicans or Democrats notice a third party getting traction -- that is to say, 8 or 10 or 15 percent of the vote -- they'll start co-opting its issues.I think this is a splendid idea, and I'm surprised I never thought of it this way. I am definitely in favor of strategic voting. Of course, I think anything that might wreak any kind of havoc on the two entrenched parties is a thing worth doing. I've said this before, but it bears repeating: even if you don't want to vote for Gary Johnson because of some goofy libertarian position he might hold (I'm not happy about his mild gold-buggery, for example), there is only upside to getting Johnson on the national debate stage if you care about the ever-expanding national security state and extrajudicial drone assassinations and warrantless wiretapping and endless undeclared foreign wars and all those other things liberals loved to complain about when it wasn't their guy perpetrating them. And if you smoke weed or know anyone who does, Johnson is your best shot at getting drug war reform some national air time.
There's no downside because you know he won't win regardless. And besides that, Johnson will not be a repeat of previous substantive third party runs because the votes he siphons off will likely not come overwhelmingly from just one candidate. This is like having your ideological protest cake and eating it too.
And just ask yourself if the USA would be a better or worse place if television ads like the following were beamed into millions of American homes in the coming months.