Democracy, Current Events

Time for Political Disruption

The election is only a few days away.  The most bizarre election in my lifetime, I think.  The two major candidates are the most disliked pair of major party candidates we’ve ever seen.  If Democrats had nominated someone else, that person would likely have an easy time winning against the Republican nominee. If Republicans had nominated someone else, that person would likely have an easy time winning against the Democratic nominee.  But the parties saddled the country with these two and the media has done what the media does.  And lets be clear: the fault is with the parties.  President Obama is right that the way the Republican party operated in the 2012 and 2008 (and 2004, and 2000, and…) elections made Donald Trump’s rise possible.  But similarly, the way the Democratic party has operated made Hillary Clinton’s nomination possible.

But we live in the age of disruption.  Uber has disrupted taxi services and, to a lesser extent, public transportation and even car sales.  Warby-Parker has disrupted the eyeglass industry.  And the list goes on.  Perhaps its time for a political disruption.  Perhaps its time to put the duopoly parties out to pasture.  Or perhaps they can survive the disruption in some modified form.  In any case, I think we now have an opportunity for a major disruption of American politics–for the better.  (I would not insist that all disruptions are positive or that all attempted disruptions succeed.)


How can that be accomplished?  Evan McMullin was, for a few days if I recall, running neck and neck with Donald Trump in Utah.  He’s now fallen behind, but that can change.  If you’re in Utah, vote for McMullin.  He can’t win the national electoral college vote, but he can get the 6 electors from Utah and make it harder for either of the duopoly candidates to get the needed 270 votes.  I don’t think that’s the case in any other state, but I may be wrong.  If you think he has a chance to take your state, help him.

Why vote for McMullin?  Well, some of you may like him.  He’s not my favorite candidate in this election, but I would put him ahead of the duopoly candidates.  For those of you that don’t like him, just remember that what matters is getting 270 electoral college votes.  If no candidate gets that, the next president is determined by a vote in the house of representatives with each state getting a single vote.  That could leave us with a better president then the duopoly nominated.  The vote would be limited to the top 3 electoral vote getters, meaning McMullin would have a chance.  Some speculate that he would ask his electors to vote for Romney (or Ryan, but Romney seems more likely to me).  That would mean Romney would have a chance.  Indeed, given that 1 vote per state favors Republicans, that seems entirely likely.  The Republicans could finally cast off the candidate that has caused them so much difficulty without having to go with a Democrat.  (For more on this, see this.  For the same strategy for Johnson, see this.)

In case you’re interested: the Senate would then choose the Vice President, from among the top two vote getters (assuming that the lack of an electoral college majority is present for the VP).  Conceivably, that means a Republican President and a Democratic Vice-President.  That could be cool.  Of course, the V-P might resign.


But this is not the end of the story.  Any political party winning 5% of the popular vote is automatically on every ballot in the country in the next election and automatically has access to federal funds for the next campaign.  Imagine a 2018 election in which the Libertarian Party can suddenly compete for congressional seats–33 in the Senate.  Imagine a 2020 election where the Libertarian Party can really compete for the White House.  Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, for all their flaws, have done a world of good for the Party.  Had they been in the debates, I believe they would have had a real shot at the White House.  But that didn’t happen.  Still, despite tremendous forces against them, they are polling at close to 5% (all of the polls seem to have the pair at between 3% and 8%).  Hitting that 5% is clearly do-able this time around.  And its hard to underestimate how big of a deal it is not to have to work to get ballot access everywhere and to have access to the federal funding.  So, even if you don’t like Johnson, consider voting for him if you are (rightly) unhappy with your party’s nominee.

That 5% means that the Republicans and the Democrats won’t be the only major players.  It means that a third-party–the Libertarian Party–can really run a contender and fight on (almost) equal footing.  That would amount to a major disruption in American politics.  That means that things change.  Granted, in the long run, we’d likely be back to two parties. But which? One could be the Libertarian Party.  Even if that doesn’t happen, the duopoly parties would have been forced to take notice–and change to get back the voters they lost.  That would matter.


I realize, of course, that there are many difficulties to be overcome.  Of course, if Clinton or Trump do get 270 electors, the game is over for this election.  (If that happens, I hope its Clinton.  But I really hope it doesn’t happen.  We deserve better.)  But if the LP gets 5%, the next election will be really interesting–and not, I think, in the “holy moly, that is a terrible train wreck, I can’t stop looking at the carnage” sort of way.  Rather, we’ll have a party with better values being competitive with the duopoly, probably getting the Democrats and Republicans to improve, possibly winning congressional seats.  (And if neither Clinton nor Trump gets the 270, we have a shot at a better president in January.)

Also, some worry that the LP would not take the federal funds.  I realize that is a possibility, but I have hope that saner minds would prevail.  Indeed, I hope that Johnson and Weld stick around to help, though I would not suggest they run again in 2020.  Who the candidates should be is an interesting question, but I think we should leave that for after the current election is complete.

I end with a plea.  Some people–I expect record numbers–are planning to go and vote on Tuesday but not vote for President.  Please don’t do that.  If you are going to vote but feeling (rightly) fed up with the presidential election, vote for Johnson (or, if you’re in Utah, for McMullin).  Really, I encourage everyone to vote for Johnson and Weld.  I unequivocally endorse them.  But its now also clearly also worth looking past this election.

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  • Pajser

    I think that in democratic system, voters shouldn’t calculate how to vote. They should vote for those they like the most. The calculations and coalitions should start after that. I always vote like that. If my preferred party has too little support to be represented, and my vote is effectively lost, I blame the system for that, but I still reject to collaborate with corrupted system through voting for major party. I can imagine exception; if party that has chance to win is bad enough that I’d prefer military dictatorship or revolution over democratic election of that party, then voting for the most popular of other parties is morally justified. If I am Libertarian, I would always vote for Libertarian party. I see no good reason to vote for anyone else.

    • Sean II

      “I think that in democratic system, voters shouldn’t calculate how to vote.”

      That argument is easily defeated.

      Say you’re one vote in a ten member board, being asked to choose between four candidates.

      Candidate A is clearly the best in your eyes, and currently polling two votes – yours, plus one other.
      Candidate B is clearly inferior to A, but also clearly superior to C, currently polling three votes.
      Candidate C is a Donnary Clintrump, a total and obvious piece of shit, currently polling four votes.
      Candidate D is some hapless idiot, barely one step above C, and currently polling one vote.

      If you follow your conscience and vote A, then Clintrump wins a plurality and the game is over right there.

      If you think strategically and vote B instead, you deadlock the election and force a run-off – one in which a Clintrump victory is still possible, but not by any means guaranteed. Obviously, a 100% chance of some dread thing is worse than a <100% chance of it.

      So your statement amounts to declaration that it's okay to prefer outcomes in this order: 1) Best Case, 2) Worst Case, 3) Second Best Case.

      Do you follow that arrangement of priorities in any other area of life?

      No? Good. Smart. But then why follow it here?

      I’m afraid the burden is yours to explain why, alone among earthly endeavors, elections are one where it makes sense to rank a 2nd best outcome in 3rd place…and willfully give up your chance to mitigating harm once your 1st choice become unavailable.

      • Sean II

        ETA- It may be tempting to criticize my analogy because it assumes a case where one vote can actually influence the outcome. That would be fair, of course, but it would also cut both ways.

        If you’re vote can’t be strategic because it is statistically meaningless, then neither can it be moral.

        In which case both arguments – vote your conscience & vote your strategy – should be dumped in favor of a third: don’t vote.

      • Pajser

        Your example suggests major problem in democratic system – winner is one who got greatest number of votes, not majority of votes. That system will often – not always – lead to election with candidate with small total support, and it should be changed. If I vote “strategically” my side may win elections, but I will play in the spirit of the system and on that way, I will implicitly support it. If I vote sincerely, my side will lose elections but my vote will expose error in democratic system and hopefully lead to its change. Additionally I’ll support the men who deserves to be supported.

        Assumption of democracy is that decisions made by other voters are acceptable, that errors will happen, and that they will be fixed with time. Under that assumption, it is more important to support people one really like and possibly expose bad system than to win elections.

        I do similar things often in private life too. Not always, but I am willing to suffer some small or mild loses due to my adherence to some principles.

  • martinbrock

    The LP is already on the ballot in every state. If this election were so pivotal, Johnson would be well above 10% in the polls, and we wouldn’t be wondering if he’d exceed 5% in the balloting. He’d have been over 15%, and we’d have seen him in the debates.

    No. The parties are not the problem. They’re a symptom. The problem is that so much power is concentrated in the Federal government. A candidate advocating less centralized authority can’t gain traction, because too many voters have too much to lose and too little to gain. Johnson tells me he’ll increase my choices while Clinton promises to double tax subsidies for cash-strapped parents. Who wins the votes of parents? Johnson promises to send half of the civil servants to the productive sector (the unemployment line) where their employment opportunities are already scarce. Who gets their votes?

    If you’re wondering how libertarians can take power in Washington and diminish its incredible potency from the inside, you’ve already conceded the game.

    • j_m_h

      I wonder just how true that “too many voters have too much to lose and too little to gain”. I don’t think most, even a number of entities like mid to large corporations, have a clue at how their position nets out all the various transfers and redistributive transfers present in the current setting. I think it’s more a case of seeing the benefit but not seeing the costs. I think I might be Tullock on this and once it’s netted our most of us are losing due to the negative-sum game character of modern rent-seeking politics.

  • LapuLapu

    Bill Weld is a pathetic Clintonista and Gary Johnson is a moron (albeit an entertaining one, but unfit to be a Commander in Chief). I consider myself “libertarian leaning” but I’ve never pulled the trigger on anyone other than Ron Paul in 2012. I’m voting Jill Stein as a protest vote.

  • Gabriel Conroy

    “Any political party winning 5% of the popular vote is automatically on
    every ballot in the country in the next election and automatically has
    access to federal funds for the next campaign. Imagine a 2018 election
    in which the Libertarian Party can suddenly compete for congressional
    seats–33 in the Senate. Imagine a 2020 election where the Libertarian
    Party can really compete for the White House. ”

    I thought the 5% rule was only about presidential elections, not that they were guaranteed a spot the ballot for every election during the next midterm.

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  • j_m_h

    Personally I don’t think the two-party system is the worst system — the current parties not withstanding. What we need is an open, fairly low cost entry into the process. I think thins like the median voter theorem really work more at the party level than at the individual candidate level so the two party system (in a competitive political institutional framework — perhaps a unicorn though) drives the focus on what might be seen as the most representative agent for policy formation. Personally I’d like to see a requirement that winners must have a true majority of eligible voters and possible something more than just the 50% + 1