If the media is to be believed, an awful lot of people are pissed off this election, and their rage is particularly focused on the Republican Party. People who might normally vote Republican out of self-interest or as the lesser of two evils are expected to turn against the GOP in protest of their failures in Iraq and assorted scandals. Whether this is a real trend or just the media repeating the wishful thinking of the frustrated and disempowered left is an open question that will be settled tomorrow.
Assuming that there really is this discontented vote out there, there are a lot of moderate Republicans, socially conservative Democrats and irritated independents who aren’t sure how best to express their displeasure. The obvious way to strike out is to vote against Republican incumbents and cast from power the party that many voters feel has let them down in a number of ways in the last few years.
The number of these alienated and unaligned voters has been growing, to the point where today they actually outnumber either of the major political parties. There’s a pretty good chance that you’re one of them.
To many — including pollsters and the media — it seems inevitable that a protest vote means a vote for the Democrat challenger to a Republican incumbent. This is based on the reasoning that voters always choose the lesser of two evils, and that recent events have placed the Republicans at least marginally ahead of the Democrats in the race to be the most evil and destructive political party in America. Wow, that’s some title to lay claim to.
However, consider this. What aspect of the Republican’s slide into disfavor has in any way made the Democrats more attractive than they were in 2004, 2002, and 2000 when you voted against them because they seemed marginally more repellant than the Republicans were? The truth is that they’re still just as bad as they were then; they just seem a bit less slime-covered by comparison.
So, here’s the question. Is your protest vote really a good idea when it does nothing to actually improve your situation? Or to put it another way, is there really a right choice when you’re choosing the lesser of two evils? Are you making a positive and meaningful decision when you choose between being punched in the nose and kicked in the nuts? Is the bully going to say, “I really respect you and take you seriously because you took it in the nose instead of between the legs” or is he just going to kick you in the side as he wanders off laughing.
Based on past polling, a lot of people who have voted Republican have done it while holding their noses, mainly on the reasonable belief that while both parties are corrupt and horrible, the policies of the GOP generally favor the class of hard working, relatively well educated, somewhat affluent people who make up the vast majority of those who actually vote. These mostly independent voters don’t agree with a lot of the social agenda that has junked up the Republican platform in recent years, but they see those issues as relatively trivial in their own lives in comparison to issues like keeping taxes low and defending the nation against terrorists. These are the voters who vote Republican by choice and are essential to augment the core of party loyalists to produce a winning majority.
If you’re one of these voters you’re left in a quandary this year, because you’d like to send the Republicans a message about how dissatisfied you are, but you really don’t want to vote against your own best interests when you know the Democrats have no plan for Iraq, no plan on immigration, no interest in fighting terrorism, and a genuine desire to raise your taxes to pay for things you don’t approve of in the first place. Plus you know that once they get into power their main goal will be to see how they can out spend and out scandal the Republicans.
You know politicians don’t listen to your cranky call to the local talk radio station and the form letter response to your 30 page letter to your congressman told you how much he listens to constituents, so by now you’ve realized that one of the few ways you can get them to take notice is with the power you exercise in the voting booth.
When you get in the voting booth, you’re going to face a dilemma. You want to say something more with your vote than just endorsing business as usual or the unappealing alternative. The problem is that whatever nuances go into your vote don’t get stamped on it and when the candidate wins no one tells him that 50% of the people who voted for him did it reluctantly or on protest, or just because he sucked less than the alternative. He’s a politician, so he’s an egomaniac, and he thinks your vote was a big, warm pat on the back telling him to do the same old stuff that left you frustrated and disenchanted.
There’s an alternative to voting for the greater or lesser of two evils. You can vote for neither of them and send them both a much more unambiguous message. Most races have at least one-third party or independent candidate on the ballot. Most of them are Libertarians, but there are Greens, Reform candidates, Independents, and some others on the ballot as well. These alternative candidates don’t have much of a chance of winning, but every vote they get sends a clear message to the major parties, and if they get enough votes that message can’t be ignored. Plus, they’re generally not politicians. They’re honest, principled people, often running on their own money, just because they’re fed up with the political status quo just as you are.
If you want to send a message with your vote — a sort of wake-up call to politicians of both parties — it doesn’t have to come at the risk of two or more years of chaos and party conflict. If you vote Democrat it’s not just a protest, it’s also a vote for change, and not necessarily for the better. If you vote outside the establishment power structure, for a Libertarian, a Green or an Independent, then you’re sending a message which is crystal clear and which both parties will have to heed.
So in that voting booth, remember that there are more than just two choices, and there is more than one message you can send.