I will never vote for a third-party Presidential Candidate. This is not a decision based on my political views but on my background in mathematics and computer science. Clearly the candidate you choose to vote for is your choice and your choice only. I’ve had this conversation a number of times and it seems more efficient to create this blog post rather than have it again in the future.
Two Candidates, A and B
Our political system is based on two main parties. I’m not arguing this is a good thing, merely that this is the way things are. In this hypothetical situation both parties, A and B, have a candidate and clearly candidate A has greater support.
Add Third Candidate C
Introduce a third-candidate, C, with views similar to candidate A but more extreme to that party’s views. This candidate then pulls votes from both of the other candidates but primarily from candidate A. This is sometimes referred to as the spoiler effect.
Exploiting the System
In the field of computer science we spend a lot of time looking at systems and edge cases that allow exploitation of the system. In the case of our voting system, if I were a Presidential Candidate I would strongly encourage a third-party candidate with views similar to my opponent and drastically different from my own. This would split the voters voting against me, reducing the number of supporters for my opponent.
This is only Hypothetical?
In the 2000 election, the state of Florida was decided by 537 votes more for George W. Bush than Al Gore. 97,421 votes in Florida were cast for Ralph Nader whose views aligned more closely with Gore than they did with Bush. Based on the results of polling of Florida Nader voters, without Nader as a candidate Gore would have won the state and therefore the Presidency.
In the 1992 election, third-party candidate Ross Perot captured 30.44% of the vote in the state of Maine. George H. W. Bush finished with 30.39% of the vote in Maine while Bill Clinton won the state with 38.77%. Had George H. W. Bush carried the state of Maine, he would not have lost the Presidency to Bill Clinton. Overall, Perot’s supporters identified more with conservative views than liberal views, which makes it possible, though not definitive, Bush would have won the state if not for Perot’s involvement.
You can see a list of other alleged spoilers on the Wikipedia Spoiler Effect page.
How do we Fix This
This problem stems from simply choosing the candidate with the most votes as the winner. There are other preferential voting systems that allow you to choose multiple candidates you support. I would like to see the United States adopt a Ranked Voting System where you number the candidates in your order of preference. This would have allowed voters to select Nader as their first choice with Gore as their second in 2000 and in 1992 Perot could have been ranked first with Bush as their second.
Unfortunately, until this type of voting reform is put in place I will not cast a vote for a third-party Presidential Candidate.