Why I voted for Gary Johnson without any chance of winning

This post is not about policy, it is about the dynamics of voting for a third party that is sure to lose, and why one might do such a thing.

Obviously, if I choose to vote for a third party, I must have some reason for doing so. I imagine that such a vote has some value, or the potential to do something. In this case, that value is not "He might actually win this election." Instead, I expect such a vote to play a part in shaping the future political landscape of America in one of two ways:

  1. It creates more discussion and awareness for the Libertarian party, giving it a chance to receive even more votes in 4 years. Maybe those votes then translate into even more discussion and awareness, allowing the Libertarian party to be a serious contender in 8 years or more. In such a way my vote today can be magnified in a positive feedback loop.
  2. A more realistic reason: Even if the Libertarian party never makes it as a serious contender (See this video for an explanation. Our voting system will always be a two party system), it may force the mainstream parties to begin to discuss new ideas. (e.g. How is it that none of them are willing to discuss the similarities between marijuana prohibition and alcohol prohibition? etc.)
That value that I assign to the third party vote has to be weighed against the opportunity cost. What am I giving up by voting for a third party, instead of casting my lot with one of the two candidates that will actually win? That depends on 2 things
  1. How likely is it that my vote for one of the two main parties matters?
  2. How strongly do I feel that one of the two main parties is better than the other?
In my assessment, the answer for #1 in Pennsylvania is "probably not very likely. PA is pretty sure to go for Obama." My answer for #2 is: "I slightly prefer one over the other".

So on one side of the balance I have the value I place on my third party vote, and on the other I have these two things, which don't weigh very much in this election. If Pennsylvania was more likely to matter, or if I really loved one candidate and hated the other, I might have voted differently.

That's how I decided to vote for Gary Johnson. I thought about it logically. I did not vote this way because of some one-liner quip like "A vote for the lesser of two evils is always a vote for evil."

What do you think about third party votes? 


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