How Should You Vote?

With the U.S. presidential election fast approaching, Americans are settling on their decision for who would best take their country in the right direction and serve their interests. Most view the political system with cynicism. Most see the two dominant political parties, Democratic and Republican, as serving the interests of corporations and the financial elite but not their own. Many feel disenfranchised. Many feel that to participate in a system that merely perpetuates the status quo without offering any hope for real change is to grant it legitimacy when it deserves none. And if past trends are any indication, most won’t vote.

Among those who will cast their ballot, most, even those who will vote along party lines, view both Barack Obama and John McCain with skepticism. They are both seen negatively, both representing the established order. But one or the other of them is viewed as the lesser evil. To keep the greater evil out of power, a vote for the lesser one becomes necessary.

This remains true even when there are alternatives to the Democratic and Republican candidates, and even when the alternative candidates are seen far more as representing American interests and far less as being corrupted. A great many voters will vote for who they see as a lesser evil rather than who they see as actually being a good candidate because they so greatly fear the possibility of the greater evil gaining power.

This voting strategy is deeply ingrained. During the 2000 election, Ralph Nader was an extraordinarily popular candidate, particularly among the left. He was seen as far more worthy than the Democratic candidate Al Gore. And yet many liberals who shared that view chastised their fellow leftists for casting their vote for Nader, particularly when it came down to the Florida election.

The reasoning is straightforward: voting for Nader meant not voting for Gore, which meant George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, had a better chance of winning. Voting for Nader helped ensure a Bush win, the argument goes, because liberals might swing their vote away from Gore, but conservatives were less likely to do so. Nader didn’t have nearly as good a chance as winning as Gore, and so the strategic goal of keeping Bush from power meant voting for Gore even if Nader was the better candidate.

While this appears to be a perfectly logical argument and pragmatic voting strategy, it is rooted upon a number of fallacies. First and foremost is the deeply ingrained belief that alternative candidates don’t have a chance of winning, and so to vote for one would mean “wasting” your vote.

This year, the most extraordinary candidate was, hands down, Ron Paul. He was extremely popular, and remains so after having withdrawn his candidacy. He made waves in America, and, despite being old enough to be their grandfather, spoke to a whole new generation of voters that are disillusioned with business as usual in Washington. His position on the issues make sense and Americans recognized that he represented real change. The fact that he was even in the running gave hope to many that the U.S. political system might actually be able to function as the founding fathers intended, that a restoration of the American Republic based upon the U.S. Constitution as the supreme law of the land might be possible.

Still, one could turn on the TV and watch news reports where people on the street are interviewed about their preference of candidates and see people saying things like “I really like Ron Paul. I think he’s the best candidate. I like his position on the issues, and he makes sense. But he doesn’t have much chance of winning, so I’m probably going to vote for Barack Obama.”

Therein lies another fallacy. People don’t vote for who they actually like for the presidency based upon their opinion of whether or not they think it is likely that they will win. The “we have to ensure the greater evil doesn’t gain power” mindset wins out over “we have to ensure the best candidate wins”. But, of course, strict adherence to this electoral strategy can only result in the self-perpetuation of the same political process they are so disillusioned with in the first place.

The truth is that the only reason a candidate like Ron Paul is “unlikely” to win an election is because people won’t vote for him. And they won’t vote for him because they think he’s unlikely to win, which of course results in the self-fulfillment of that reality.

The American people need to recognize that an alternate reality exists, and that the way to bring it about requires merely a shift in paradigm. American voters should shift their electoral strategy from seeking to put the lesser of evils into power to seeking to elect the force for the greatest good.

There are, of course, those who already adhere to this alternative framework. If there were a few more among their numbers, alternative candidates like Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Ralph Nader would gain more votes. They might still lose. But does voting for a losing candidate mean one’s vote has been wasted? How much more wasted is a vote that goes towards the lesser evil? You’ve still voted for the perpetuation of evil.

Far more worthy alternative candidates might still lose, but it wouldn’t mean votes were wasted. The increased percentage of the votes that went towards them would send a powerful message to Washington. It would encourage more people in the next election to do the same and vote their conscience, rather than adhering to a voting strategy that virtually guarantees nothing will ever substantially change.

Eventually, the number of votes being cast towards alternative candidates would be enough that the message from the American public could no longer be ignored. Even if still resulting in a loss for the worthiest candidate it would remain a win for the American public, because whichever evil from whichever party did win the election would be under far greater pressure to implement real reform.

And for Americans who don’t believe their voice is heard in Washington or that public pressure has any effect, a simple refresher course in history could remind them that advancements in society are not made at the behest of government or the ruling class, but only by pressure from the masses reaching a tipping point. Politicians don’t go out on a limb to promote radical change on their own accord. They have to be pushed out there under massive public pressure and under the fear that one’s constituency might very well vote one out of power if one doesn’t do precisely what they are publicly demanding.

One of the most effective means by which the American people could send a message to Washington would be by voting. There’s every reason to be cynical of the political system in the U.S. But there’s no reason for despair. There is hope. And there are individuals working within the system representing real hope and real change. More Americans need to take the time to stay informed and get engaged in the political process. And of those Americans who do vote each election, more need to recognize that the “lesser of evil” strategy only perpetuates the framework wherein it remains a choice between evils.

The only real voting strategy that can offer real hope for change is the one wherein Americans vote their conscience and cast their ballot for the candidate they think is truly the most worthy to be called by the title of President of the United States of America.

Until Americans realize this then there will indeed remain little hope for the future.

Jeremy R. Hammond is the editor of Foreign Policy Journal, a website providing news, analysis, and opinion from outside the standard framework provided by government officials and the corporate media. He was among the recipients of the 2010 Project Censored Awards for outstanding investigative journalism and is the author of The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination. You can contact him at: Read other articles by Jeremy, or visit Jeremy's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar bob balkas said on October 21st, 2008 at 9:30am #

    voting, and in US especially so, is one of the least important structural member of most governances.
    governances remain; govts come and go; most of which depart very little from longstanding policies.
    one of the most important structural member in all governance is the education.
    if this stud is mostly a miseducation when it comes to foreign policies, it nevertheless is extremely powerful member of any governance.
    this is why, in US, canada, elsewhere basic schooling is mandatory and higher education available to some only.
    of course, private education is very powerful tool in raising powerful rulers; ab 2-10mn people.
    cia, fbi, police, armed services; privately-owned media and military r also by far more important than voting.
    i have just voted for NDP. if there was no NDP i wld have voted for the communist party. and if there wasn’t the communist party available, i wld not vote.
    if i was an amer, i wld not only vote for nader, i wld also donate money/time to his policies.

  2. Keila said on October 21st, 2008 at 10:28am #

    You definitely have your finger on the pulse of Americans on this election. The “Lesser Evil” strategy is exactly what I am personally guilty of. This article is very enlightening and makes complete sense. I plan to vote for Obama with the hope – or perhaps, under the delusion – that his associations with Ayer and Jeremiah Wright might be an important view into Obama’s ACTUAL ideals and beliefs. But insofar as his senate voting record goes, he has not shown even a glimpse of that possibility.
    I think most Americans also feel TORN…because they WANT to believe so badly that Obama’s promises are real and true.
    Our future looks quite grim, but you are correct – there is always hope. And I feel that more than ever, the American people are going through a political AWAKENING, that may hearken a new era of political activism and involvement. Let’s keep hoping…

  3. steve conn said on October 21st, 2008 at 11:59am #

    With Obama elected by the moronic McCain-Palin campaign and the forthcoming depression, it is time to send this candidate a firm anti-war and anti-corporate message. That means voting for Ralph Nader.

  4. Deadbeat said on October 21st, 2008 at 12:26pm #

    I would not conclude that Obama is being “elected” by McCain-Palin. This is not a year for Republicans and if Obama was white Obama would be even further ahead. The unraveling of the economy has more to do with Obama widening his lead.

    I don’t think that Ralph Nader is going to be a factor in this year election. I supported Ralph four years ago. The problem is that Nader was unable to build on the momentum from his 2000 campaign. The Left and Nader has been unable to solidify itself into a realistic and viable alternative to the Democrats. In other word Nader & the Left failed to build the kinds of grassroots institution that can continue beyond election day. What will happen to Nader after 2008? Will there be any institutions remaining from the campaign to continue organizing and building solidarity? The answer is no there won’t be anything. This make Nader more of a gadfly rather than someone like a Eugene Debs who had a real party apparatus which is why the government jailed him.

    Voting for Nader merely registers ones protest against the system and its policies but in reality such a vote lacks both substance and strength.

  5. Hue Longer said on October 21st, 2008 at 1:20pm #

    so who then are you voting for, DB?

  6. Max Shields said on October 21st, 2008 at 4:13pm #

    Hue, good question but Godot will get here before you’ll get an answer.

  7. Dave Silver said on October 21st, 2008 at 7:07pm #

    As Brecht said the least fascist (or conservative) ) is still a fascistor
    a conservative. The really poisonous political illusion has been and is that the Democratic Party can be part of the solution when it is central to the problem. Support McKionneyand help build an independent politicsl movement/Party. Nader at Wall Street equated dictators,
    communist and fascist alike. He also said that corporate greed screws up genuine capitalism. Is there any other kind?

  8. rosemarie jackowski said on October 22nd, 2008 at 6:03am #

    Great article !
    I agree that voters should vote their conscience. Voting for the least of the less got us where we are.
    I predict that 90% + will vote for more of the same. The 90% will get what they deserve. The rest of us will have voted for Nader but will pay the same price as the uninformed voters.
    Just one more observation – if Obama wins, the anti-war voice will be silenced. More troops will go to Afghanistan and the left will be in denial.

  9. Tom Yager said on October 23rd, 2008 at 7:03pm #

    Vote for McKinney and help to build an alternative to the two-party system. Nader is good, but McKinney is better because a vote for her helps to build the Green Party.

  10. Rose Beardsley said on October 28th, 2008 at 10:26pm #

    I am voting for Obama. He IS our best hope for a better America. He will try very hard to fix the mess that President Bush has put in our nation. He has good policies & is inspiring in what he says he will do. McCain WOULD be a disaster, along with that Sarah Palin woman who is incompentant. i watched ALOT of the political coverage on both candidates & i am convinced that Obama Is the better man to be our NEXT president.!