Please don’t vote third party. At least don’t vote third party expecting to win. Third parties can determine who the victor will be in an election, but they do not win. Ask Ralph Nader.
If you are a disillusioned Republican desperate for a GOP victory, your third party vote is going to do far more damage to yourself than your opponent. Ditto for Democrats. How many of the votes for Ralph Nader do you think would have gone to George Bush instead of Al Gore? I may be going out on a limb, but not many.
According to Gallup, roughly a quarter of Americans are Republicans, a third are Democrats, and a record 42 percent are independents. When half the country is independent, I will give serious thought to voting third party. But for now, splitting the vote will be as influential as a third party will ever be.
In the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election, Democrat Terry McAuliffe got very lucky. Given that McAuliffe's Republican opponent Ken Cuccinelli lost the race by only 56,000 votes, Governor McAuliffe owns his victory far more to Libertarian Robert Sarvis - who syphoned off another 146,000 votes - than to Old Dominion shouting “I am Democrat! Hear me roar!”
I try to temper my Rubio-enthusiastic friends with this sobering reminder: If independent, now Democrat, Charlie Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek had not split their vote in the 2010 Florida senatorial election, Marco Rubio would have very likely lost the election.
“If the United States had [an electoral] system like Slovakia,” an Englishman told me while I was in Madrid, Spain, “[t]he Republican Party would be ten parties.” Voting third party in hopes of changing the political system would be putting the cart before the horse; Slovakia's electoral system uses proportional representation PP and facilitates a multi-party system whereas the American electoral system uses first-past-the-post and facilitates a two-party system. In the U.S., a candidate must simply win more votes than their opponent. There is a reason ten Republicans or ten Democrats don’t all run for president. That’s what primaries are for.
In a nutshell, voters in a PP electoral system vote for a party and based on the percentage of the vote a party receives. That party selects members to fill the seats of the legislature, the parliament, the bundestag or whatever. However, mixed-member proportional, the system which Germany and New Zealand use, is slightly different. In MMP, voters vote for a party and also for a member of that party.
Between PP and MMP, I prefer MMP. The latter gives somewhat more control over who exactly the representative is rather than leaving it up to the party.
But here’s the catch: deep blue and deep red states have no interest in adopting PP or MMP, and purple states where no party dominates have no need to adopt PP or MMP. “The tragedy of this situation” wrote Rand Olson of Michigan State University, “is that. . . the winner-takes-all system nullifies people’s votes if they don’t support the majority party in their state. . . [M]any voters don’t bother showing up to the polls in [states like Alaska or California].”
Why would California Democrats or Alaska Republicans give up their dominance? What purpose would PP serve in already competitive states? For now, there is neither the political will nor the political way for the electoral system to change. However, the U.S. political landscape, slowly but surely, is changing nonetheless.
In 1992, 32 of the 50 states were swing states. By 2012, 14 were. As purple states go either red or blue, and Democrats and Republicans struggle to retain members. A third party could emerge almost without trying - maybe when the country is majority-independent.
Combined with Democrats and Republicans losing members and purple states becoming fewer and fewer, the political landscape is changing all by itself. Just give it time.