When it comes to voting, I am persuaded that our goal should be to make an actual difference in the world, not merely to make a statement concerning our political ideals.  So if there are three candidates — A, B, and C – and if elected, candidate A’s stated policies will result in a 50% increase in evil, candidate B’s policies will result in a 30% increase in evil, and candidate C’s policies will result in a 10% increase in evil – and yet candidate C is a 3rd party candidate who will not be able to secure more than 10% of the popular vote – then we ought to vote for candidate B even if candidate C more closely resembles our political ideals.

Why?  Because voting for C will result in more evil.  How?  Since candidate C cannot possibly secure enough votes to win the election, every vote cast for candidate C makes it more unlikely that candidate B will be able to beat candidate A (assuming that the nation’s political makeup is roughly evenly divided, as in our nation), and thus more likely that candidate A will win the election and cause the greatest amount of evil in the world.  In a very real sense, then, a vote for candidate C is an unintentional vote for candidate A, which is a vote for more evil in the world.   If our goal is to act in such a way so as to limit evil to the best of our ability, then we should vote for candidate B.  The time to vote your conscience and make statements concerning your political ideals is in the primaries, not the general election.

A common objection to this line of reasoning is that if we always vote for the most electable candidate simply because he is not as bad as the other major candidate, rather than voting for the candidate that matches our political ideals, then we guarantee that candidates who exemplify our political ideals will never be elected.  And if they are never elected, then ultimately we are ensuring that the amount of evil in the world will always be higher than it might have otherwise been.  The only way to get the best candidate in office and reduce the amount of evil in the world is for those who think candidate C is the best candidate to cast their vote for him even if it is clear that he will not win, because doing so will increase his polling numbers, making it more likely that others will be willing to vote for him (or other candidate’s that reflect his party’s ideals) in the future (the bandwagon effect in which people are more willing to hitch their wagon to someone they see as capable of winning).

I am sympathetic to this line of reasoning.  It is true that if we never vote for other parties on the basis that they cannot win elections, they will never win elections.  It will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The only way we can change the political landscape is by voting for candidates from other parties.  While this may result in short-term losses, this is necessary to secure long-term wins.[1]

As true as this is, given the current political landscape, I do not think it is wise to vote for third parties.  There is an imbalance in the number of viable political parties on each side of the political spectrum (liberal and conservative).  If you are liberal, you basically have two parties to choose from: Democrats and the Green Party.  If you are conservative, however, you have multiple parties to choose from: Republicans, Tea Party, Constitution Party, etc.  Conservatives and liberals are fairly evenly divided in this nation.  If the liberal vote is only spread out between two parties, and the conservative vote is spread out between three parties, then the liberals would win every election (50% / 2 = 25% for each liberal party; 50% / 3 = 17% for each conservative party).

Of course, we know that the adherents to political parties are not evenly divided.  Third parties on both side of the political spectrum have relatively few adherents compared to either the Democrats or the Republicans.  Given how closely divided conservatives and conservatives are in this country, it does not require many people from one of the major parties to move to a third party to make it impossible for the major party to win elections.  For example, let’s say that for liberals, 48% vote Democrat and 2% vote Green Party, and for conservatives, 48% vote Republican, 1% vote Tea Party, and 1% vote Constitution Party.  What would happen if 5% of Republicans changed affiliations to the Tea Party?  That would not help the Tea Party win any elections, but it would guarantee that the Republican Party loses every election and the liberals set the agenda for our country.  Voting for third party candidates does make a difference, but the difference is increased evil in the land—the very opposite of what we want.  The only way to prevent this is if there was roughly equal numbers of people defecting from both the Republican and Democratic parties to third party parties.

For me to start voting for candidates from other parties, three things would have to happen: (1) More viable liberal parties would need to be created that are capable of splitting the liberal vote; (2) Republicans would have to drop moral conservatism from their platform, such as abortion and male-female marriage, and become morally indistinguishable from Democrats; (3) A political party would have to emerge that aligns itself better with my political ideals than the Republican Party.

If our ultimate concern is to act in such a way so as to secure the most good possible, then we need a healthy mix of idealism and practicality.  Given the current political landscape, the way to secure the most good is to vote Republican since they are the only political party that represents core Christian moral values and has a chance of winning elections.  You can choose to vote your ideals and ignore all practical considerations, but I propose that this is indicative of misplaced priorities.  It says you care more about making a statement concerning your political ideals than you care about making a moral difference in the world.  If you are truly concerned about using the power of your vote to bring about as much good as possible, then do not vote for third party candidates in a general election.

[1]It could also cause candidate B and his party to change their platform, because they will quickly recognize that if they are not able to secure the votes directed at candidate C and his party, they will never win another election.