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Third-party support jumps this election cycle

Gary Johnson, Jill Stein receive over 4 percent of student vote, according to 2016 Herald fall poll

According to The Herald’s 2016 fall undergraduate poll, nearly 5 percent of respondents indicated that they will be voting for third-party candidates come Election Day. About 58 percent of these students indicated that they would vote for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, while 42 percent indicated they would vote for Jill Stein of the Green Party.

The new data represent a notable 43 percent increase in student support for third-party candidates compared to The Herald’s 2012 fall undergraduate poll, which found that just 3.5 percent of students planned to support third-party candidates in the 2012 presidential race.

Support for third-party candidates could be more substantial given the nature of the current election, said Professor of Political Science Richard Arenberg. 

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “are more unpopular than any presidential candidate we have ever seen,” Arenberg said. “If there was ever an election ripe for third-party success, this might be it.”

Voters who were unhappy with the outcomes of the Democratic and Republican primaries might see third-party candidates as “an alternative place for them to land,” he added.

For others, voting for third-party candidates boils down to identifying with a candidate’s platform.

Sheila Moran ’19 is voting for Johnson because “he best represents (her) political views,” she said.

Glenn Yu ’20, a former Herald opinions columnist who has taken the semester off to help campaign for Jeffrey Johnson of the Green Party, plans to vote for Stein because “she represents (his) ideals the best,” he said.

Yu said he is “open to voting for candidates who will make the world a better, more just place, regardless of whether they affiliate with any party.”

Yet this election cycle has been particularly “disappointing” for true supporters of the Libertarian or Green Party candidates, Arenberg said. As Election Day creeps forward, “people come home to the two-party system.”

Though people may want to vote for third-party candidates that align with their ideals, often times voters default to either the Democratic or Republican nominee, Arenberg said.

This trend is reflected in The Herald’s 2015 fall poll — taken before the Democratic primary — in which only 22.7 percent of student respondents indicated that they would vote for Clinton if the election were held that day. But — after Clinton won the Democratic nomination — her support has risen to 85 percent among respondents. In comparison, 1.3 percent of students in the 2015 poll indicated they would vote for Trump if the election were held that day, compared to 1.8 percent of students in the 2016 poll who indicated they would vote for Trump.

The large increase in voters for Clinton can be attributed to unity among Democrats on campus, said Nick Pennington ’18, political director of the Brown Democrats.

“During the primary, there were Brown students for Hillary and Brown Students for Bernie, but by and large those two groups have come together” to support Clinton, Pennington said, adding that third-party candidate support is nearly nonexistent in the group.

The unity of the Brown Democrats lies in stark contrast with the disunity of the Brown Republicans, which has not explicitly endorsed any candidate for the current election. Around a third of Brown Republican members who are not voting for Trump are planning to vote for a third-party candidate, The Herald previously reported.

“We definitely have a sizable number of people who support Gary Johnson rather strongly,” said Kelly Conway ’18, president of the Brown Republicans.

The strength of the two majority parties often makes people feel as if they are wasting their vote even if they share views with third-party candidates, according to Moran. Many of Moran’s peers feel that she is “throwing away” her vote by voting for Johnson, she said. Regardless, Moran feels confident she is voting for someone she “actually would want to see in office.”

Austin Rose ’19, treasurer of the Brown Republicans, rejected the notion that voting for a third-party candidate would be a wasted vote. Voters can ease their consciences by voting for a third-party candidate whom they truly support, Rose wrote in an email to The Herald. Even though voting for a third party may not affect the direct outcome of the election, it is a clear sign of discontent with the two major parties that will be noted in the future, he wrote.

Voting for third-party candidates makes election “analysts seek to understand and capture your vote in future elections because they have proof that previous techniques drove you away,” Rose wrote.

Yu refers to this idea of throwing votes away by voting for third-party candidates as the “lesser evilism” paradigm.

“Today, we are told not to vote for third parties and independents because of the threat of Trump. Six months ago, we were told not to support (U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT) because Clinton was supposedly the only candidate that would be able to stand against Trump,” Yu said. “Four years from now … we will again be told we have to vote against evil so that lesser evil will prevail. This cannot continue.”

Arenberg noted that the opportunity to participate in the election of the first female president may also draw voters away from third-party candidates. The Herald’s 2016 fall poll found that roughly 75 percent of the students voting for third-party candidates are male, which is “somewhat surprising that it’s so large,” though not unprecedented, he said. The “historic moment of the election of the first woman president … begins to capture the imagination of people who earlier on did not necessarily think it was as big of a deal.”


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