You can’t blame Gary Johnson for President Trump

 

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There has, naturally, been much discussion over the last few days of how and why events the morning of 9 November came to unfold the way they did. One persistent theme that has emerged has been that the fault lies with third party candidates (in particular, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein) and the people that voted for them. I have personally heard a surprising amount of people from our own party make this case – people you might think would be tired of hearing third party politics so casually dismissed!

Let’s leave aside, for now, the fact that the limited data we have suggests third party candidates actually hurt both Trump and Clinton to a similar degree. It’s simply patronising and offensive to tell people that they have a moral obligation to vote for a candidate they don’t believe in. People know the choices available to them, and they know the way the system works. Someone voting for Johnson is very explicitly saying that they DON’T want a Clinton or a Trump presidency. They want a Johnson presidency. The system presented them with a choice and they answered it honestly. If you say that they should have backed Clinton to prevent Trump winning, you’re saying they should have allowed their sincere opinions to be subverted by a louder and more powerful interest group.

People say that even though your vote won’t change the outcome of an election, you still have to use it because if everyone thought that way then the system would break down. Well, by the same logic, a third party voter absolutely shouldn’t ‘give’ their vote to someone else. Because if everyone thought that way, their views wouldn’t receive ANY representation, and politicians like Clinton would feel no pressure at all to respond to them.

Is this a ridiculous system? Yes. Should America (and the UK) introduce some form of preferential voting instead? Absolutely. How can we effect this change? Well, presumably it would start by voting for candidates who believe in electoral reform. So it would be much easier to sympathise with Clinton supporters if their candidate had ever shown any evidence that she believed in electoral reform of this sort. You absolutely cannot tell third party voters simultaneously to

a) Accept the reality that the electoral system is unfair
b) Vote for a candidate wholly committed to maintaining that system.

Which brings me to the crux of this apology for third parties: that it was Clinton’s failing that she lost voters to Johnson and Stein, not theirs. She knew that had she supported electoral reform, she could have won over a lot of those voters. Similarly, she could have supported inviting Johnson to the debates. She could even simply have spent more time speaking on issues that Green and Libertarian voters cared about.

She made a conscious choice not to. She decided that she would be better served trying to appeal to other potential constituencies. That was her choice, and she (and her voters) must now live with the consequences of it. I’m not even saying that was necessarily the wrong choice, but you certainly can’t blame people themselves for not being convinced by your candidate. Clinton’s job was to appeal to them, it wasn’t their job to persuade themselves.

You think Johnson voters should have voted for Clinton? Well, guess what: they think you should have voted for Johnson. And frankly, their argument has a lot more merit, because at least their candidate recognised the absurdity of the American electoral system and wanted to do something about it.

 

* Fergus is a party member in South London who has previously stood as a council candidate in Cambridge

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7 Comments

  • Yes, this is true. Some Democrats need to do quite a bit of soul-searching, before they point the finger. Choosing the unempathetic, robotic war machine Clinton over the humane and principled Sanders was a real bum move. The DNC just gave away the presidency to Trump.

  • I agree. I am not a fan of tactical voting. I wonder how many LibDem candidates have lost votes to labour simply because their potential constituents thought that if they voted LibDem they’d get stuck with a Tory (for example). My brother voted for Jill Stein in Florida and I respect his right to do so.

    That said, I’m reluctant to blame anyone for the Trump win other than Trump himself, who ran a campaign on a crass blend of incendiary rhetoric and fantasy. (Although admittedly I wish Hillary had “taken the gloves off” a bit more). And I wish our Tory lot would stop being so bloody diplomatic now he’s been elected. “Looking foward” to working with him, my a*se!)

  • Wow, I wish the “Liberal Democrats” here in the US were as understanding as those you have in the UK! I won’t apologize for my swing-state Florida vote for the Libertarians. Except my mom, to whom I did apologize, but only to make her feel better. I believe our government will someday manage to stay out of our board rooms AND our bedrooms, and will always vote for candidates that espouse social inclusion AND fiscal responsibility. Sometimes the Democrats or the Republicans put forth a somewhat suitable candidate, but not this year. Johnson was the only choice, but maybe Democrats will change their approach in 2020.

    I have little hope of this however, after seeing how little they changed their tune following a loss in 2000 when Ralph Nader garnered 90,000 votes in Florida where Gore lost to Bush by 537 hanging chads. After Nader railed against the influence of corporate money in politics, the Clintons opened the doors of a veritable pay-to-play venue for corporations in their new Foundation.

  • As a Libertarian who proudly voted for Gary Johnson, thank you so much for saying everything you said. You nailed it. Not only did our votes just not help Trump win, but it’s insulting and flat out wrong to assume that our votes would have otherwise gone to Clinton or that they should have. We have just as much of a right to be represented as all other Americans, and if the two major parties want our votes they need to pick candidates who address issues we care about.

  • Denis Loretto 12th Nov '16 - 10:15am

    Most of us would agree that the real bugbear is the first past the post system which both the USA and UK cling on to. However while campaigning to change this it is nonsense to decry tactical voting under the present setup. In a contest as crucial as this one to your country and the world, to woodenly allow your worst possible preference to be elected by inventing some “principle” that you must support your first preference with no hope of succcess makes no sense whatsoever.

  • Geoffrey Payne 12th Nov '16 - 2:15pm

    Gary Johnson is a libertarian that wants yo abolish social welfare programs and Obamacare. So if he wants to stand and take votes away from the Republicans then that is fine by me. But what is scary is that if the US had proportional representation then the Libertarians would ensure that the US would even more likely have an extreme right wing government in power. Despite that I still think every country including the US should have PR.

  • John Mitchell 14th Nov '16 - 1:34pm

    I very much agree with the article. Blaming third party candidates is a lousy explanation or attempt to deflect from why your candidate lost. Hillary Clinton was never any good as a presidential candidate or was likely to be unpopular with lots of voters, as was Donald Trump. That’s not Gary Johnson’s or Jill Stein’s fault.

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