Why Your Vote for Stein Counts

11 months ago Alger Mag Editor 0


If Donald Trump wins this election, whose fault will it be?

For many liberals the answer is Jill Stein, this cycle’s Green Party presidential candidate, and those who give their vote to her. Democrats spend a disproportionate amount of time criticizing these Green Party voters for what they see as an irresponsible lack of tactical acumen, despite most polls putting Stein in fourth place behind Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Gary Johnson. They believe that Clinton voters and Stein voters share similar progressive goals and that Stein is making these more difficult to achieve. Various melodramatic attempts have been made to tie Stein voters to ever more confusing motives, ranging from Vladimir Putin to sexism (against one female candidate but not the other). Stein’s liberal critics also enjoy citing the so-called “spoiler effect,” when a third-party candidate splits what would supposedly be a strong voter base for one major-party candidate and causes their opponent to win instead.  The most often-cited instance of the spoiler effect is George W. Bush’s victory in the 2000 election, attributed to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. But this critique leaves out most of the story from that election: that not only did 12% of Florida Democrats vote for Bush, but also that Gore probably would have won had he demanded a statewide recount. These arguments, that Greens are either in some secret conspiracy to stop Hillary Clinton or are ignorant of recent electoral history, both miss the point that Stein voters are trying to make. To actually understand their motives, we have to both question the progressiveness of the two major-party tickets and consider the potential power of protest voting.

Can a vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump be defined as progressive?

Since President Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. government has deported more than 2.5 million people more than under any other president in American history. Hundreds of miles of walls and fences stand along the Mexican border. Donald Trump has received the overwhelming majority of media coverage on this issue for his infamous desire to expand these walls and increase the deportation program, but, the difference between Clinton and Trump on this issue is less substantial than most progressives would like. Hillary Clinton appears to support maintaining the immigration status quo, continuing Obama’s record deportation rate and keeping up the current wall. In the past Clinton has argued for the deportation of young children, and her previous record of reversing her stance on issues like these should not provide much comfort to the pro-immigrant Clinton voter.

The human rights record of the Obama administration is, like immigration, not entirely in line with a progressive stance. Since Obama became President in 2009, the American government has killed “at least 200 and as many as 1000 civilians” by drone strikes in nations where the US is not even at war. This does not include the civilians killed in Afghanistan, including forty-two people in a hospital last October, fourteen of whom were Doctors Without Borders aid workers. Any historical analysis of American involvement in the Middle East supports the argument that interventionism in general has led to less stability and greater terrorist threats; some evidence even suggests that terrorist organizations use these civilian casualties as recruiting tools. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy appears to be significantly more hawkish than that of Obama’s, considering she has sought and received the endorsements of many of the architects of previous American wars in the Middle East. As for her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump’s foreign policy goals have been vague, occasionally making appeals for anti-interventionism but also promising to disregard international laws and kill civilians in his quest to destroy ISIS.

In these categories and in many others – including, but not limited to, climate change and energy policy, management of the economy and prevention of recession, both domestic and global antipoverty tactics, etc. – both Trump and Clinton present ideas that are extremely incompatible with a progressive agenda. To put it bluntly, progressives don’t deport children or support programs that continually bomb innocent people.

Can a protest vote ever count?

Although her electoral prospects are gloomy, Stein deserves the vote of progressives. If the Green Party wins 5% of the popular vote, it will gain public funding of $20 million from the Federal Election Commission. In the current election cycle the Stein campaign has raised less than $2 million, so FEC funding would allow them to increase their advertising tenfold and share their platform with a much larger audience. This protest vote counts; it is a tangible movement towards a broader progressive movement in the United States.

A vote for Jill Stein counts in the sense that all votes count. Voters only get one chance every four years to send a real message to the presidency. For regular citizens who stand with, say, immigrants, or civilian victims of drone strikes, or black children shot dead by police, or people whose homes will be underwater in fifty years, or anyone else who holds beliefs which are unpopular in Washington and can’t afford to start a SuperPAC, now is the last chance to make demands of the most powerful person in the world until 2020.  This kind of change is only going to come if somebody asks for it.

If Trump wins, there is little doubt that Stein voters will be blamed as Nader voters were for Bush’s victory. These insinuations – “a vote for Stein is a vote for Trump” – ought to be dismissed. Even if Clinton were to lose by one vote in some bizarre Kevin Costner movie-type scenario, the blame for a Trump victory is distributed equally across every single eligible voter in the state who didn’t vote for Clinton. When the actual mathematical blame for a loss on an individual voter is somewhere in the ballpark of one six millionth of a percent, it becomes clear that these votes must not be conceptualized individually, but in blocs. Between the conventions and the first debate, Hillary could easily have made an appeal to the Stein supporters. She could have refocused her campaign around income inequality, peace and justice for people here and in the countries we bomb, urgently transitioning toward renewable energy and avoiding large-scale climate disaster, or any number of other vital issues with broad public support. Instead, while Jill Stein was protesting the DAPL and talking about a Green New Deal, Hillary Clinton decided to court the vote of George H.W. Bush. If she loses, it won’t be the voters’ fault; it will be her own.

With just a month to go, no one is entirely sure who will win the election. Most polls show a narrow Clinton lead, but any number of factors could change this. There is little doubt that a Clinton win is better than a Trump win for the broader progressive cause. In spite of this, it would be a strategic mistake for American progressives to compromise here; to do so would be to throw away whatever political leverage they have. If they support a self-described “center-right” candidate now, they will have no other option but to continue to do so in the future. If progressive voters decide that it’s permissible for their candidate to be able to gain the vote of right-wing Republicans whom they completely oppose, then the label “progressive” loses all meaning. Voters must ask themselves whose side their candidate will take when she is inevitably forced to make a decision that will pit two sections of her incongruent support against each other.

There has never been a more apt time for a third party movement than now, amidst the most unpopular matchup in modern American history. Four years from now, a Democrat will be running against either Trump or a more organized but similarly appalling candidate who has co-opted his movement, and unless that Democrat is progressive the refrain will be the same: “This is no time for protesting! This election is too important for you to fight against war, or the destruction of the environment, or the mistreatment of immigrants and people of color!” They’re going to say that every election while trotting out candidates whose commitment to actual progressivism — or rather, actual progress — becomes continuously more symbolic and continuously less substantive. Pointing to the other guy and saying “At least I’m not him” has become the Democratic status quo – a status quo in which immigrants are still being deported, civilians are still being bombed, and the candidate is still not good enough. To vote for Hillary Clinton is to vote for all of her policies; the only way to change them is to vote for someone else.


By: Patrick Cleary