In this episode, Kurt talks to Nick Byrd about the possibility of casting your vote for a third party candidate. Is doing so a wasted vote?
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. I’m so glad that you’re listening in to today’s episode. We’re starting a series here for the month on October and I guess the first week in November as well on politically themed episodes because this is an election cycle. We are going to be dealing with political issues and so I’m excited today. We’re going to be talking about third party candidates or rather I should say if voting for a third party candidate is a wasted vote so let me start off by first saying that we won’t be specifically addressing the candidates because we do fall under a 501c3 so we can’t endorse or I guess harshly criticize, I’d have to go back and check, political candidates, so in order to retain our 501c3 status, we’re sticking to issues and whether we should vote for a third party candidate or rather that it might just be a wasted vote, that’s an issue. That’s an issue that academics think about and so we’re going to be today shortly joined by Nick Bird who’s a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University. He studies a number of issues. He’s at the moral and social reasoning lab and in the philosophy department at Florida State. His primary research is about how people reason and about how reasoning is related to ideology, morality, and philosophy in general, so we’re excited to have him and his thoughts on today’s show. He’s going to be talking about something that he’s written on and he’s researched about third party voting. His web site if you want to check him out is byrdnick.com, but before we bring him on, we’ve just got a few introductory matters.
This past week we ran a giveaway on Veracity Hill’s Facebook page so if you don’t already please go over to that page and like us. That’s a great way for you to get some feedback and some announcements, a great way for you to give some feedback and listen to some announcements here so let me get to the winners here of this book giveaway. We were giving three copies away of this book. For those on Facebook live, you can see which book we were giving away. It’s called Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant And Extreme by David Kinnaman who’s with Barna and Gabe Lyons who runs an organization called Q. The winners of the book are Seth Baker, Evan Olson, and John Hernandez, so those are the three winners and if you’re listening, if you want to secure the book that one of you three just won, you’ve got to respond back to me so I know where to send it to, so if you do not respond back to me in a week’s time, then we will be giving it away to another person so hopefully you’re listening to the podcast and I think we’re going to keep doing this from time to time, have these giveaways. It’s a great way to get the word out about what we’re doing. Thank you for those that did participate and stay tuned for future giveaways in the future.
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the Illinois Family Institute’s Faith, Family, and Freedom banquet and the guest speaker there was former congressoman Michele Bachmann and she gave a very impassioned message about the role that we have to play in our society, almost regardless of your partisan views there’s still important views that we as Christians have to play in our society today so maybe that’s something we’ll be talking about with Nick in a little bit, about the role that Christians have to play or whether or not they’re satisfied with the candidates this time around, and again, we’re gonna be speaking generically about the candidates, but it may possibly slip if we bring a candidate’s name in and we’ll speak objectively about that so I want to share something that I found humorous. I shared this on my personal facebook page and perhaps this is something that you’ve been familiar with or you’ve heard this as well in this election cycle so just to provide a context here so this comes from a Facebook page called Being Libertarian and of course their page is going to be supporting Gary Johnson who’s one of the third party candidates this election cycle and it reads “Attention all eligible voters. Some very important news has come out regarding ballots in November. Please help spread the word. If you’re planning to vote for Donald Trump, according to President Obama, a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Donald Trump. Therefore when you get into the ballot box, look for Gary Johnson/William Weld and select them to lock in your vote for Trump. If you’re planning to vote for Hillary, according to Donald Trump, a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Hillary Clinton. Therefore when you get to the ballot box, look for Gary Johnson/William Weld and select them to lock in your vote for Hillary. If neither Trump nor Hillary excites you, there is a great option in Gary Johnson and therefore when you get to the ballot box, look for Gary Johnson/William Weld, so you get the picture here. They’re making a play, this is the Facebook page Being Libertarian. They’re making a play off of what we get from both major parties. It’s that, well if you vote for the other person, you’re really voting for, if you vote for Johnson, that’s a vote for so-and-so, the opposite person, so it’s really fascinating. This is really a social psychological phenomenon that we are experiencing this election cycle and so we’re going to be thinking about this on today’s episode and I hope that this can be a bit enlightening to you. Maybe you’ll still end up disagreeing with some of the thoughts you’ve got. I would love to get your feedback though so if you wanted to write a comment or something, you can do that on the web site at Veracityhill.com or on our Facebook even. You can tweet at me at VeracityHill, or if you want to come on the show today, you want to have your voice heard, you want to comment or ask us a question. Give us a call, the number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. So, with that, oh one more final announcement. I’m very excited. After the show today we’re going to be having our first official Defenders Media monthly meeting so even though we’ve been in existence for, hasn’t been a year yet, usually just the stuff has been back and forth so with multiple people, but we’re bringing the team, the wonderful volunteers that have helped the ministry and really they are the oil for the machine that is Defenders Media, so we’re going to be coming together, eating some snacks, drinking some pop or water, enjoying our time together, and then getting down to business talking about ways we can help each other and the things that the ministry’s doing, so if you want to learn more about our ministry, you can go to Defendersmedia.com.
So with that I want to bring Nick in and start the conversation here. Again, Nick Bird is at the Moral and Social Reasoning Lab in the philosophy department at Florida State University. Nick. Thanks for joining us today.
Nick: Thanks for having me on. It’s great to be here.
Kurt: Great. Great. So I was just doing some googling a few weeks ago and did a Google search “Third party voting” and I’m pretty sure yours was like the fourth post or something that came up in my Google and I thought “Wow. This guy’s got some thoughts on this and he’s got a well-made web site and I figured, hey, we’ve got to bring you on the show so we can talk about this stuff because you’ve clearly invested some of your time into researching and considering the issues at stake here.’ “ So let me just throw it off with a very broad question. Do you think, and again I don’t know if you’ve been listening, so we’ve got to keep it, if we have to use generic candidates, we can just come up with names for them, but
Nick: Yeah. How do you feel about candidate R and candidate D? Is that still too conspicuous?
Kurt: Maybe we should do something like A and B.
Nick: A and B. Okay. I’ll do A and B.
Kurt: Sure. Cool. Yeah. I’ll just throw this broad question out there. Is voting for a third party candidate a wasted vote?
Nick: Yeah. So that’s a question that I think a lot of people have been asking this election given that there’s two candidates and they’re extremely unpopular so I think a lot of people are trying to think about ways that they can deviate from those two very unpopular candidates. I think there are ways to argue both ways and I think it’s going to depend on who you align with the most. I think some people won’t really align most with one of the two major candidates and so what candidate do they want to vote based on who they align with or do they want to vote based on some sort of heuristic that tells you to vote for the majority parties?
Kurt: So let’s draw that out a little bit. It seems like there are a couple ways you could vote. One is to vote for the candidate that best fits with your own political ideology or the heuristic vote as you say is what you think is maybe someone that you think could do a couple things for your view and you think that they’re electable or rather that we just can’t have the other person. Is that what you’re saying?
Nick: Yeah. There could be all sorts of heuristics. Perhaps you’ve just been a member of one party your whole life and you just can’t imagine voting for the other party or perhaps you’re surrounding by a community of people that talks very negatively of one candidate, like over and over and over again so you’ve just got this severely negative association with one of the candidates and so based on just that alone you think “Well this person must be so bad that I have to vote for the only other person who could beat them”, so that’s another heuristic, and there might be other types of heuristics that you could go to, but yeah. I guess the general point I was driving at was you could vote with these heuristics, or you could kind of take a step back and try to pick a more reflective approach and try to like detach yourself from these quick judgments that you could make and see what is the evidence about where these people stand on various issues and where do I stand on these issues and maybe reflect even on why you think you should stand on a certain place on certain issues, and when you do that you might be able to find one way to vote based on alignment with issues or alignment with a candidate based on issues and that would be the more reflective, i.e., not heuristic, approach.
Kurt: Gotcha. Gotcha. So why is it do you think that people say that if you vote for candidate C, we’ll say that candidate C is the third party person, why would voting for candidate C be a wasted vote against somehow either A or B?
Nick: Yeah. Good question. I think it depends on what people mean by wasted vote. Right? I think what most people mean is that you’re voting for someone who doesn’t have a chance to win so that’s maybe one thought on what they mean by wasted vote and so if that’s what they mean, then it seems like what matters most is voting for someone who has a chance of winning. Right? So then you might want to ask is this a good reason to vote for one person over another so you mind if we kind of subject this to scrutiny right now or do you?
Kurt: Sure. Yeah. We can get into that.
Nick: Okay. So let’s just take this thought to task here. So we say “Look. We should vote for the person who’s most likely to win.” So let’s assume we’ve got a candidate who’s most likely to win, but it just turns out that that candidate is Hitler. Now I’m not saying that either of the candidates in this election are like Hitler so please don’t infer that. I’m just saying the one who happens to be most likely to win is Hitler. Surely we don’t think that because that candidate is most likely to win we ought therefore to vote for that candidate, and so it seems like on this gloss of the way to vote in which you think the people you should vote for are the people who are most likely to win, this voting to win strategy really breaks down because we wouldn’t want to vote for Hitler. Right? And so then we would ask “Well why wouldn’t we want to vote for Hitler?” and I guess the idea would be something like “Well we don’t really align with his plans or his policies about the future,” and so the upshot here seems to be “Oh. Interesting. We seem to care more about whether or not we align with somebody’s plans and policies more than we seem to care about voting for the person who’s most likely to win,” and so that’s just kind of a brief like four or five step process of reasoning you can run through to help yourself realize that this whole voting to win heuristic doesn’t seem to bear out when it comes down to it.
Kurt: And would you say so, I get the sense from what you’ve seen online, is well a lot of people that are supporting candidate C, they say, “Well, if you just stop thinking, there are so many people, it’s almost like a herd mentality. If so many people would just stop supporting A or B and would vote for someone that’s more in line with their own political views, then all of a sudden candidate C might actually have a chance at winning.” Would you say that’s accurate?
Nick: I mean that’s a really good question. I think really it’s an empirical question. Right? Unfortunately it’s an empirical question that would not be easy at all to measure in advance. It’s the type of thing where we might be able to get some information on after the election on perhaps. That assumes that most people vote. If there’s an enormous amount of people who don’t vote and there historically has been, almost half the people don’t vote in the U.S., and if that many people don’t vote then it makes it a lot harder to answer the question of if X number of people had voted for Candidate C, then a certain outcome would have happened, because there’s so many people who just didn’t vote at all, we didn’t know what would happen if those people would have voted and what they could have been to the election. In general I just want to say that’s a tough question to answer and I think we would want data and lots of it and even if we had the data, I’m not so sure that the answer would be clear, but there is something to this idea that you’re driving at which is something that might be called the two-party problem so historically, there’s been two candidates that are most viable to win in any given election so we’ve got essentially two viable options and it might be that not everybody totally aligns with one of those two options, but for maybe a variety of reasons they feel compelled to vote for one of those two, maybe for the voting to win strategy or for other reasons that I guess we could discuss.
Kurt: Sure. Yeah.
Nick: The point is you really have only two viable options so you think, “Okay. So there are millions of people in this country. Right? I bet a bunch of them are really smart, really competent, really capable, and could do great things? How is it that at the end of the day we can only get two?” There’s some political science on this so there’s this guy, Duverger, and he basically says “Look. The way our political system runs with the first task approach system, that’s likely to favor just two candidates.
Kurt: So that’s where the first past the post. One voter gets one vote as opposed to like a weighted system where you could have multiple votes?
Nick: So the first past the post system is where basically once you get over a certain threshold of votes for a certain state, then that state gets all of the say electoral points for that state as opposed to just the percentage of votes that they got for the state, and then there’s this nested layer of another first past the post at the national level where the first person to get past a certain number of total electoral points, basically wins the election, even if they didn’t get the majority of…
Kurt: So that would be our system with the Electoral College.
Nick: Correct. Yes. So the Electoral College has this kind of first past the post feature at the state level and it has this first past the post feature at the national level and those are related and basically because people or candidates can’t point towards their being elected as a function of just getting the majority of the state and then the majority of the nation because of the Electoral College, that means that people will vote for the two most likely candidates to win. It’s just kind of the way it works. There are other systems of voting where you can get more by than just two but basically, the way it works more or less, we’re going to get two candidates that are wildly popular among the rest.
Kurt: So that’s the two party system, but of course the solution to that is have more parties perhaps. Right?
Nick: Good. Good. Yeah. Right. So the next step is “Well couldn’t we just get more parties?” And the truth is we’ve had more parties for a long time and they historically have not really had much of a following, at least not in terms of votes. They might have a following throughout the election, but when it comes time to vote, any amount of votes they get tend to be pretty insignificant. There might be a variety of reasons like incentive structures that kind of maintain that status quo, for instance, in order to allow a third party candidate to be a in a debate, a third party candidate has to show that they have a certain amount of support by a certain date and if they don’t get that amount of support then they don’t show up in the debate and there’s one less face on the stage so to speak to refuse support, so this is something that candidate C has complained about and other candidate C’s in years past have complained about.
Kurt: Just really any third party candidate seems to have complained that A and B seem to get more media attention than other Cs, Ds, Es, and Fs.
Nick: Yeah, and so there’s this real question of what would happen if basically anyone who had just .1% of the electorate, if anyone had just that much support, could be on the debate stage. What would that do to the election? Again, I think that’s an empirical question and we wouldn’t know until we kind of experiment with that, but you might think “Well what’s the harm of experimenting with that?” You might think “Maybe we should do something about this.”
Kurt: So if we’ve got that so-called two party problem, but then there’s also the third party problem it seems. They just can’t seem to get enough traction. What do we do then? What happens if we just continue in a system where A and B just generically are just candidates that continue to be wildly unpopular. How can we fix the issue? It seems like a systemic issue. Right? It’s an issue with the system because it would keep reoccurring so how can we approach that and try to come up with solutions?
Nick: Good. I don’t want to necessarily claim that “Hey. Look. This election we can turn things around and the third party can win! Totally likely!” I would say that the best modeling shows that there actually is a chance for candidate C to disrupt the Electoral College enough to prevent either of the two major candidates from getting to 270 electoral points. That is a mathematical possibility, but it’s pretty unlikely. I just want to be honest about that.
Kurt: For our listeners let me just explain how that would work. The American system is based off of the Electoral College where the states or their Electoral Voters, these are actual persons that go and vote and it’s usually usually the case that they vote in alignment with the state that they are representing, although rarely has it occurred that an electorate or elector would vote against that. At any rate, so in America you’ve got to get as the present numbers stand, you have to get 270 electoral votes to win to become the president, but if there is a third party candidate that comes along and takes away some electoral votes because this candidate wins some of the states, that very well could prevent candidate A or B from achieving that 270 and then you’ve got an interesting case where what happens is the House of Representatives then vote for the president, but it’s not just a simple majority in that either. They vote collectively based on their states so each state gets one vote, so in that vote, California gets an equal amount of votes to say Wyoming, even though California has vastly more people than Wyoming so it’s a really interesting system. It’s not just simple majority. Some people think it’s flawed. Some people think “Hey. These are the checks and balances.” It’s a quite fascinating system in that respect, but go ahead. Continue Nick with what you were saying.
Nick: That was actually a really helpful explanation of the system. I really appreciate that actually. That’ll clarify the discussion quite a bit I think.
Kurt: Thank you. Thanks.
Nick: To give an example of what you’re talking about, like in 1968, here I’m pulling from an article you sent me that was…In 1968 George Wallace was running as a third party candidate and he did receive 9 million votes and a total of 45 electoral votes and that was almost enough to prevent either of the two major candidates from getting to that threshold that they needed to win the election. So if George Wallace had received a few more votes, then that would have prevented one of the two major candidates, well either of the two major candidates, from having enough to get the election and it would have gone to the secondary voting mechanism that you mentioned.
Kurt: Which has occurred.
Nick: I just want to say I’m not an endorsement of George Wallace or anything, but just an example from history of how that could have worked.
Kurt: Yeah. And that did happen in American history. I’ll have to just double-check here. It looks like 1801 and 1825, the House of Representatives voted for the candidate and one of the times I even think they voted for the second place winner as in the person with the second most electoral votes so I think one time they voted for the top electoral vote getter but then the other time it was the second place person so for people that say it’s impossible, it’s not impossible. It’s just very improbable, but it has happened so, it’s quite fascinating.
Nick: Yeah. That’s definitely worth mentioning. Apparently you can’t say it’ll never happen or it hasn’t happened because that’s just wrong.
Kurt: That’s right.
Nick: So you’re asking what do we do about the two party problem? What do we do to get the third party more votes? Here’s an option. It seems like there are a variety of reasoning strategies that people use that would lead them to vote for one of the two major parties even though they don’t prefer one of the two major parties. So the voting strategy that we talked about are the ones that I’ve mentioned earlier like the voting to win. That seems to push people to vote for one of the two major parties even if they don’t align with the party that they end up voting for, at least not aligning as much as they align with some other candidate, so that’s one way that people do it. Another way that people do it might just be like a general kind of conformist experience like all the people in their community are kind of putting social pressure on them intentionally or unintentionally, they’re putting social pressure on them to vote for one of the two major candidates. When you think about how can you get more third party votes is just “Hey. Let’s just challenge ourselves to not fall into one of these two strategies where we either try to just vote to win or just try to conform to what our community is trying to get us to conform to.” But it’s not enough to just say “I’m just not going to vote that way.” Right. You have to say “I’m not going to vote that way and instead I’m going to vote this way.” Right? You have to have some kind of positive strategy. So one strategy is what I call voting to align. It’s pretty intuitive. Right? What you do is you try to figure out where you stand on a variety of issues so you might look at fifty or so of the issues that have come up in the last year of campaigning, I guess over a year of campaigning, and try to figure out where you stand on all these issues, and hopefully your reasoning process about each one of these issues would not be one of the heuristic processes I was talking about earlier. Hopefully it would be the type of thing where you kind of take a step back and try to look at evidence in support or against of each of these stances on each of these issues and then try to pick a stance. Right? You take a stance on all these issues. Step one.
Okay. So then step two is you figure out where each candidate stands on each of these issues and you notice the order here. You didn’t start by looking at where a candidate stands. You started by looking at where you stand. Right? Maybe that’s impossible at this stage in the election because people have watched the news or something, but anyway, it would be to figure out where you stand first and then sort of try to keep a blind eye to where the candidate stands, but you can have hopefully a less biased approach.
So after you look at where the candidate stands you go to the third step and you compare your stances to their stances. And then you basically figure out “Okay. So I align most with candidate A and I align second most with candidate B and I align third best with candidate C.” Then you vote accordingly so there are web sites that allow you to do this. I think procon.org is one of them and just kind of as an example I did this during the primaries and it was a very insightful afternoon for me to kind of work through all these issues and then come to my positions and then compare it to the existing candidates. At that time there were far more candidates than there are now, but it gave me a ranking and then as people started falling out of the race, I just realized “Okay. So that means that I can’t vote for that person and I can’t vote for that person” and now I have a new top alignment candidate on my list.
Kurt: The big benefit to doing this is that you mentioned you’re not going to be as biased so certain things that may lend themselves to bias, to be a bias, would be maybe something like “Oh is that candidate handsome? Is he good looking? Does he look good on camera? Is he a good public speaker?” For some it might be whether the candidate is a male or female. Correct me if I’m mistaken, by taking a test perhaps yourself or just figuring out what it is you believe about how you think the government should be run, regardless of the level, if it’s the federal level or state level or if it’s a local issue, you need to first figure out where you’re at before you come to these candidates that you want to represent you. Is that right?
Nick: Yeah. I think that’s a very important step to kind of figure it out for yourself as opposed to trying to figure out where other people stand and then trying to align yourself to them so to speak. That would be the opposite of what you’re trying to do.
Kurt: Okay. So step one is looking at what you believe. Step two is then, remind us again.
Nick: Step two has been after you’ve figured out where you stand on a bunch of issues you somehow find out where the candidates stand on these issues and like I mentioned, procon.org I think is one of the places you can do this pretty easily. You basically take a fifty-item test and it gives a position on a bunch of different issues and it gives you this output and says “Here’s the remaining candidates and here’s the people that you agree with most” and it lists, it starts with the people you agree with most down to the lists of people that you agree with least and that would be one way to vote.
Nick: You just vote for the person you align with most.
Kurt: That’s the pure option. Finding the candidate that you think is best. But suppose someone says, someone that’s supporting candidate A or B says “Look. If you’re still going to vote for candidate C, D, E, and F, the one that you may agree with, you’re just throwing your vote away because that person doesn’t have a chance.” Does your approach depend on everyone starting to just vote for the candidate that’s most like them would you say?
Nick: That’s a good question. So let’s say someone pushes back on this and say “I know you happen to align with candidate C most, but if you vote for candidate C, candidate C is still not likely to win” and the upshot there is supposed to be so you shouldn’t actually vote for candidate C even if you align with them, but that goes back to the objection that we talked about at the beginning. The voting to win strategy turns out to be a bad strategy when it comes down to it, like in the Hitler case that we talked about, or let’s say the following. Forget about the fact that candidate C is not likely to vote. If you vote for candidate C, that makes candidate A or B more likely to win and the assumption there is that we don’t want candidate A or B to win, so you’re voting for candidate C is having some sort of bad outcome, but then we could go back to these opening remarks that you made about the Facebook post, I think that was actually a really good joke. So the joke is there’s a bunch of different statistical models that go both ways in terms of voting for third parties. Some models say “If you vote for third party it’s going to end up being a vote for candidate A,” and then there’s other models that say “If you vote for third party, that’s going to end up being a vote for candidate B.” There’s not quite complete agreement on what your vote does when you vote for a third party. There’s an important nuance here because we talked about the Electoral College a bit. There’s this thing called a swing state so these are states where the chances of one candidate winning over another are, I mean it’s neck and neck, right? One candidate could win. The other candidate could win. It’s not going to be a landslide. The people who do decide to instead of voting for a major party. If they decide not to vote for a major party but instead vote for a third party, those maybe could have significant impact in one of these swing states so historically the swing states tend to be states like Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa.
Kurt: Ohio’s the big one. Yeah. Ohio’s the big one. Yeah.
Nick: Ohio’s a big one. Florida’s a big one right now. Yeah. So there’s a bunch of other ones so if you’re in one of those swing states then there might be something to the argument that voting for a third party actually ends up being a vote in favor of one of the major two so if you’re in a swing state that would be some research that you want to be doing and here’s another thing. If you don’t have the time or the capacity to do that kind of research, maybe don’t vote or consider not voting at least because you just wouldn’t know what your vote is doing and therefore you could unintentionally vote for this thing that you really wanted to not vote for.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s a good thought. Okay. So this has been a great discussion Nick. If you have a question or comment on today’s topic or question for our guests today you can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. So Nick, let’s continue this discussion after a short break from some of our sponsors.
Nick: Sounds great.
Kurt: I am here with Nick Bird and today we are discussing the issue of whether voting for a third party candidate is a wasted vote and we’re not specifically talking about the candidates on the show. Instead we’re speaking more generically about this issue and so we’ve just sort of designated candidate A and B as your major party candidates and C, D, E, F, G, etc. to the third party or fourth or fifth party type. But before we get back into that discussion, it is time for a segment of the show that we like to call rapid questions and this is a segment in the show where we ask short light-hearted questions and we want fast responses. So, Nick, are you ready for rapid questions?
Nick: I hope so.
Kurt: Okay. We’re going to start the game clock and we’ve got one minute so here we go. What’s your favorite sport?
Nick: Favorite sport? Running.
Kurt: Left or right?
Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?
Kurt: Crushed ice or cubed ice?
Kurt: Are you a morning or a night person?
Kurt: Spring or Fall?
Kurt: Beach or mountains?
Nick: Definitely mountain.
Kurt: Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Kurt: What celebrity are you most like?
Nick: I have been told I look like Neil Patrick Harris on a daily basis.
Kurt: Hokey Pokey, Electric Slide, or the Macarena?
Nick: Macarena I guess.
Kurt: If you had to live anywhere, where would you want to live?
Nick: I really loved Colorado when I lived there so I think Colorado is a great one.
Kurt: Okay. A place to go back to perhaps. Very nice. Thank you for playing rapid questions. Now I know you’re at Florida State right now and you likely didn’t know this, but that’s where my wife is from and her side of the family is still there so I’m quite familiar with Tallahassee.
Nick: Okay. Cool.
Kurt: Do you know? I wonder if it’s still there. There’s a Moe’s Southwest Grill right across from the campus of Florida State and it’s my favorite favorite Tex Mex joint. Is that still there or has it closed down?
Nick: That’s a good question. There’s definitely lots of Moe’s or a few Moe’s around town.
Kurt: Yes. Amen.
Nick: I’m guessing that one’s still there.
Kurt: Okay. Alright. We make about one trip there a year so when we visit I love doing Moe’s because here in Chicagoland there didn’t used to be Moe’s and then there was one like thirty minutes away so I would make special trips just for Moe’s and then…
Kurt: Yeah. But thankfully there was one that opened up about ten minutes from my house just probably about a couple of months ago so the downside to that is the household budget has now increased because visits to Moe’s are a bit more frequent so….
Nick: Yeah. Yeah. They have some pretty good stuff and they have, that’s the place that has the great sauce bar. Texas Salsa. Right?
Kurt: And they include chips with a burrito free of charge unlike their rivals who shall remain nameless.
Nick: Free of charge.
Kurt: That’s right. Okay, so we’re talking about here on the show today we’re talking about whether casting your vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote and before the break we explained a little bit about the American system. We talked about the perhaps the problem, the inherent problems with the two party system such as you’ve only got two options. That seems to be inherent to the two-party system. And of course one of the ways to break that is to have more parties. Well, that doesn’t seem to be working all that much because people are still voting for a candidate that they think is the lesser of two evils and of course this is the case not just this election cycle, but we’ve seen this throughout American history perhaps because you only get one vote and you don’t want the worser evil to come into office so that may mean that you vote for a candidate that even still you don’t like and you kind of hold your nose as some people say that, they’re just gonna hold their nose and cast the vote. But perhaps there’s some other solutions to this and then also maybe you waste your vote even in a two-party system so we’re going to bring that up Nick hopefully in this next half of the show and we’ve even got some panelists here today so we’re going to be asking them some questions. They’ve got questions as well. Let me just say here, we’ve got one commenter here who’s listening to the show. They say “Love me some Moe’s. Free chips.” Yes. Thank you. I agree. So glad we’ve got some Moe’s supporters out there. We should see if they want to become a sponsor of the show. That’s what we should see.
Nick: Yeah. Sounds like they’re already getting the benefits.
Kurt: Nick. Let’s keep talking here. What else can we do if we want to try and help increase awareness of these third parties? Like you had mentioned, maybe voting this time around just won’t do that much good, but is there a long term gain here? Surely in the history of states we’ve seen parties evolve and change and new parties arise. That’s kind of what’s needed. I don’t know. What are your thoughts?
Nick: Good yeah. I think that’s a really good idea, to think about the long view. So you might think “So my third party vote in this election won’t likely elect a third party candidate to win, but what if up here in the grand scheme of things you think “Okay. So if more people who actually align with third party candidates who vote third party,” and that’s true in the data set, somewhere, and if you’re not aware then current elections are very very, there’s like loads and load and loads of polling about current elections. Right?
Kurt: Yeah. Including what’s called…
Nick: And there’s a lot of people looking at that polling data and political parties pay huge money to have access to this data, to analyze it in all sorts of ways so that they can try to get as many votes as possible, so if third party, people who align with third party candidates, express their third party votes, then that shows up in a data set and then down the line when parties are looking at how to recruit votes, they’re going to have to appeal to those people who voted for third party candidates and so it is I think, there is a sense in which it’s extremely important for people who have third party leanings to express that so it shows up on a spreadsheet somewhere and gets looked at by people who want their vote.
Kurt: Let me say here. In the United States we have a system where if any party gets more than five percent of the vote, they get access to matching funds from the federal government and if I’m not mistaken, I’ll have to double check on this, if I’m not mistaken, these aren’t taxed dollars. These are dollars that people actually donate when they fill out their taxes. I’ve got to double-check that. At any rate though, these parties can receive these federal funds so for a third, fourth, or fifth party that really needs money to help expose their views to make voters aware, “Hey. We exist!”, getting to that five percent threshold of a general vote is quite crucial and that can be a benefit to if you’re unsatisfied with the two major parties because you might think “Well, let’s get some more competition. Let’s let there be more competition of ideas. Let’s let there be more candidates.” So that would be one way to do it is by casting your vote for the third party because you’re going to help them get to those thresholds which will provide benefits. Nick. Before we continue I want to bring the panel here we have. We’ve got some questions we might be able to ask to you since you’re a great resource for us, so here in the studio we’ve got our team. We’ve got Chris and Joel, the two main tech guys, and we’ve also brought in our codemaster, Kevin, and they’re all joining us today, and Joel, you had a question about whether you could waste your vote in a two-party system. What was your thought on that?
Joel: So I was just saying that, if you really think about it statistically, being for candidate A let’s say, that they’re going to take your state, so a certain amount of votes over when they tip the state towards themselves is a wasted vote too. Is that true?
Nick: Right. So there’s a discussion about it I think. There is a sense in which, let’s just say you have to get 50% of the vote to get the electoral votes for a state. Right? Any vote over that 50% mark are in a sense wasted because if those votes weren’t there, then the candidate still would have gotten the 50.1% that they needed for the state so all those votes are wasted and in a state like California, that’s millions of votes, so you know, California is like 95% leaning towards one candidate and so that would mean that roughly 45, 44% of the people who vote which scans millions of people, their vote didn’t actually help their candidate win the election because if those votes weren’t there, their candidate still would have won the election, so there is that sense, and I’m really glad that point’s being brought up because it kind of shows another problem with this idea of voting to win because if you think you should only vote for the candidates who with your vote are more likely to win, then this means in a state like California, millions of people shouldn’t vote and that seems like a bad conclusion which points out that maybe this idea, this notion of a wasted vote is not a good one.
Kurt: Let me push back on that. What if they said or someone said “Well, but we have to assure the victory of the candidate because getting to a, if the final vote totals and the winner gets 50.1%, that was close call. So you want to try to avoid those close calls and instead you should just support candidate B over A, so shouldn’t we still say that, “Well we should support the lesser of two evils because we have to be assured that victory will occur.” What would you say to that?
Nick: I think there is something to that. Right? So let’s say we made a massive public service announcement to California and said “Millions of you don’t have to vote. Just stay home that day.” We haven’t told which people not to vote and that would be very important. We would need to tell exactly the right million amount of people to not vote and only if we told the exact people and all those people perfectly complied would it still work out. Right? So if we just sent this public service announcement to the whole state then most people don’t show up and all of a sudden like somehow the other candidate miraculously wins. So there is some sense in which the logic doesn’t perfectly break down because as game theory sort of suggests, this is a very complicated matter. Right? You’re not just voting in a vacuum. You’re voting amongst many others and so you have to take into account “What are they going to do if they do vote this way or don’t vote at all or vote this other way?” So yeah, I think there is something to this point of pushing back saying “I’m going to vote for this person anyway,” even though it didn’t strictly speaking guarantee that the candidate would win,” It’s just kind of creating an extra cushion for the candidate. And I think there’s actually a second point that you can kind of make this. The more support that this candidate gets in general, the more powerful they will be when in office because they will be able to say things like “Look how much of the vote I got, folks,” so that when they’re trying to push for a certain policy or something like that, they can say “I didn’t just get 51% of people to stand behind me. I got way more than that,” or something like that so there’s a sense in which it doesn’t just matter for the election. It has this more long-term effect down the road for the candidate to be able to speak to their base.
Joel: Definitely. Yeah. I think that just highlights that the idea of a wasted vote is not a good idea.
Kurt: Or perhaps better yet Joel, let me restate that, that a wasted vote occurs on both sides so that if you might think you’re wasting your vote or some people might think you’re wasting your vote if you case it for a third party. At the same time those people supporting the third or fourth or fifth party candidates would say “Well actually, no, you’re wasting your vote because so and so is going to win in a landslide in that state. You might as well vote for someone that’s more pure.” I know in this election season I’ve sort of used that line of reasoning to illustrate to some people saying this phrase, because I want them to understand, “Oh. Well perhaps it’s a wasted vote on both ends apparently.” Right? Because, as we’ve been saying, the state of California, if you’re going to win in a landslide…it may not be California either. It could be other states that are firmly in support of one candidate or the other and you see this over a long period of time through these election cycles, so really then, in those non-swing states, maybe people should be more willing to vote for someone that’s more ideologically pure, let me phrase it that way. So, Kevin. You’ve got a comment or question.
Kevin: Yeah. At least for the minority party in those states because they’re going to lose anyway. When you’re dealing with the majority party, if the amount of votes gets low enough they could actually lose, but the minority party is really wasting their vote in these solid states that are totally predicting who’s going to win.
Kurt: Wait. Say that again. You’re saying the minority party is wasting their?
Kevin: Absolutely. Yes.
Kurt: Oh I see. So you’re saying that if Candidate A is going to win a state, the people voting
Kevin: By a large margin
Kurt: By a large margin.
Kevin: Then Candidate B.
Kurt: Everyone who votes for Candidate B is also wasting their vote.
Kevin: The primary people who are wasting their vote and they should vote for a third party.
*Someone speaks in background*
Kevin: Absolutely. Not only is it important for them to vote for a third party, it’s important for them to vote and separate themselves from the apathetic people who aren’t going to vote no matter what.
Kurt: Interesting. Interesting. So now Nick, could you tell us then, how would that be different from the swing states? The swing states are, for those who aren’t following politics all that much, swing states are states where you have one candidate the party A wins one cycle and party B wins the other cycle and it can go back and forth. It swings, like a pendulum. Does that then also apply to the swing states or what’s going on there?
Nick: That’s where things get very complicated. A lot of people will say “Look. If you vote for candidate C instead of one of those major two, then you’re actually voting for” and they insert the name of one of those major two candidates. But that is based on a variety of assumptions. Namely it’s based on what your second most likely candidate you would vote for is and what your third most likely candidate you would vote for is. Until you know the second and third for each person, it’s not clear which way a third party vote would swing things, so that’s why I recommended that people really try to carefully look into, if you’re in a swing state, really try to look at the most respectable polling for that state and try to understand what your third party vote is doing. There’s a variety of lists of third party states you can find. I think even Wikipedia has one. I’m honestly not entirely sure of what to make of what a third party vote’s going to do in each swing state.
Kurt: Yeah, and even in those states that aren’t super solid, we’ve got Travis here, he asks a question, doesn’t talking about the 50.1% seem superfluous when it presupposes you know who the winner’s going to be because maybe you don’t know who that winner’s going to be if it’s a close race. That’s a good point. That we still don’t know. It’s as you said Nick, it’s sort of that empirical thing that you only discover after the fact. That’s what makes it an interesting phenomena.
Speaker: That’s true in the swing states, but in a lot of states, you do, I mean there’s enough statistical evidence in the last, let’s say, twenty years of elections, to know where it’s going to go.
Kurt: For those long-term, the long-term outlook. With the short term outlooks that change, those are the ones where a candidate is more important and even then, I don’t know what I would do. If I lived in a solid state, if I lived in a swing state, imagine people feel the burden more as to who they should vote for because back in 2,000, the difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore was 537 or something like that votes, out of millions and millions, tens of millions of votes? That was the difference. It’s like 1/100th of a percent or something. Probably more than that.
Speaker: Fill up within each state.
Kurt: Yeah. And within our system with the Electoral College, you have to look into that so, so we do have a question from someone here online Nick. We’ll start with you and then I’d like to get the thoughts of the panel here. So Bob writes “Listening right now. Here’s a question. What if you lack confidence in the candidate following the party platforms?” So I guess perhaps Bob here is wondering, so you’ve done step one. You’ve done step one. You find out where you believe, what you believe, and you’ve done step two in the sense that you follow a party. Maybe you don’t follow a candidate, but you follow a party, and what if, and perhaps this poses an interesting question, because there’s perhaps a good argument to be made that in this cycle, none of the candidates follow their platforms perhaps. Maybe there’s a discussion there, but at any rate, so what do you do then? What would your advice be, Nick?
Nick: That’s a really good question and I really appreciate that a person is thinking, it’s like an extra step of reflection about this process, right? Because there are multiple steps you could make beyond the three or four that I’ve recommended, so I do think you want to consider, allegedly this person is committed to this party or maybe they’re committed to this issue but then you think “Well they said that, but based on a variety of contextual factors like their history on this position or how seriously you can take them based on the things they’ve said during the campaign.” How seriously are they committed to this issue or how seriously are they really committed to this party, and if you’re not confident in that, there is a sense in which you want to discount the impact that that has on your decisions, that their belonging to a party has on your decision, or their taking a certain stance on that issue has on your decision.
Kurt: Yeah. No. That’s good. Before I give my thoughts, anybody here from the panel have thoughts on what we should do when a candidate that is representing your party does not seem to support what your party believes. What do you do then? Do you guys have any thoughts? No? Okay. So I’ve got some thoughts on that.
Nick. I think you’re right. It sort of creates this distrust that perhaps this candidate is just doing lip service, right, to the views? Maybe even he or she, maybe the candidate says that they will do something, but you just don’t find them trustworthy and you just don’t believe that’s what they’re going to do. Maybe that’s an opportunity for you to look at other candidates that might be closer to your policy positions so maybe even the other platform does not, or is not as close to that, the previous party’s platform, but you’ve got the candidate that is, and so maybe since that candidate’s more trustworthy you think you know what you’re going to get, and so maybe that’s how you should support that candidate because with the philosophy of what’s called populism, a candidate may just be telling the crowd what he or she thinks the crowd wants to hear and that is one strategy that politicians take so it may not even be, it may go against their personal beliefs so so person’s say “Ah, well I’m personally opposed to”, one common example is abortion, “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but I still support a woman’s choice they say.” That’s sort of that populism that you might see.
You also might see it in other cases too. I’m not going to bring in some of the examples of the candidates that we see today, but I think we do see it, and we may even see it on both sides or multiple sides. Kevin?
Kevin: I would say one thing about the parties is that a president isn’t president by himself. He or she appoints a lot of other people and usually it’s from the same party that they’re running from so you are kind of electing a party more than just one person. Certainly it’ll be biased by that person, but the Supreme Court justices that they elect, the cabinet that they put in there.
Kurt: The staff even, because the staff does work
Kevin: Who advises them. Yeah.
Kurt: Or even the staff does work on behalf of the president, but it may not be even precisely what the president wants, but like you said, it represents the party, so there are a lot of factors at play in this topic. We’re getting a little low on time here. Nick. What would you say then? Does it depend on the election cycle if a third party vote is wasted and what would be your advice then to people and perhaps you can speak generically? What’s your advice in this cycle?
Nick: Yeah. Great question. I would suggest again that if you live in a swing state then you’ve got a lot of research to do on what your vote actually does because you can vote for one thing and then unintentionally shift the election towards this thing that you didn’t want to shift it towards, right? There’s something to be said for doing a lot of research there, and I do think there’s this ethical question about voting so Jason Brennan , philosopher who talked quite a bit about the ethics of voting and he has a variety of arguments that come to the following conclusions. It is worse to vote badly than it is to not vote, meaning if you aren’t confident that you can’t vote badly, or you’re not confident that you will vote well, then it would be better to not vote. In swing states, it might be hard to figure out how to vote well based on how close these elections are so I guess I would just encourage people to consider the possibility that like the best thing to do could be not to vote. I know that sounds kind of strange to a lot of people, but like I said Jason Brennan has lots of arguments for that if you want to check out his book called The Ethics Of Voting. That’s one thing I would say and then I would say if you’re not in a swing state the panel, some people on the panel, have made this really great point. Look. If you’re in California and 95% of the people are going to be voting for this one candidate and the polls are pretty clear that that’s what’s going to happen, then you don’t have as much likelihood of causing things and an unintended consequence by voting for a third party or by voting for whoever you most align with and so there’s a sense in which a person could feel more freedom and more comfortable and confident about voting for the person that they most align with.
Kurt: Great. Awesome. Well hey, Nick. It’s really been great to have you on our show today. Thanks so much for your time. If you want to learn more and read about Nick’s work you can go to www.byrdnick.com . Thanks again Nick.
Nick: Thank and thanks for the panel.
Kurt: Of course. Alright, so I hope this has been an enlightening discussion for you guys and this perhaps is, because it’s such an outlier of an election cycle, that’s what makes this topic I think really interesting to talk about. In past years, there’s still always been that discussion, especially, I know Ralph Nader’s kind of been a guy that’s always just been a part of that political discussion, but this time around, you’ve got a couple candidates, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson, I think it’s because voters are so dissatisfied. I mean the polls are so, they’re dissatisfied with the two major candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, that this discussion becomes a bit more worthwhile and so there’s a lot to say here still on this, but I hope we’ve been able to provide insight for you listener, for maybe some things that you’ve been thinking about. We do have a follow-up thought here. This is from Travis here. So he says “As a private voter I have no knowledge of who that 50.1% is so it’s going to be”, so basically it’s not going to be good for him to try to figure out who he thinks may win so maybe to that I’ll just say, well Travis perhaps you live in a swing state and so that can be hard to figure out. For some of us, the majority of us I can even say, that live in states where it’s a sure bet who’s going to win, there will be some wasted votes both on candidate A and candidate B in whichever state you live in that is a solid state because you’ll have votes on the top of the winner that are a waste, but then the other candidate that lost, whether it’s A or B, those are also wasted votes because they didn’t win, so perhaps in those states you’ve got to think maybe I should find a candidate that is more in alignment with where I stand. There was a topic we didn’t get into all that much today. We brought up a little the first past the post system, but also what other voting systems are and how can those help, so I guess maybe we’ll have to devote another episode to that topic in its own right, but I hope this has been enlightening for you and I just want to say that I am grateful for the continued support that we have for this show from our patrons to our sponsors. So the patrons are people that just chip in a couple bucks a month. Five bucks, ten bucks a month to help us do this show and if you want to learn more about how you can become a patron and what benefits there are, there’s some benefits you can read about on the web site. I’ve got a texting program that I use so if you’re one of our $10 a month patrons I’ll shoot you out a weekly text message about what the show’s going to be on before anybody else hears about it so you’ll get the insider updates and I’ll also take your questions as priority as well so please consider that, and then our sponsors. Let me just list them here. We’ve got Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family institute, Evolution 2.0, and Fox Restoration, so we’ve got a growing list of sponsors so thank you to our sponsors for your support. Thanks to the tech team, Chris and Joel, to the full panel, that would also include Kevin today. Thank you to our guest Nick Byrd who’s a Ph.D. candidate at Florida State University studying philosophy and moral psychology. Thank you for listening in today and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.