In the wake of the political following which has developed around twelve-term Congressman Ron Paul, there has been a steady influx of commentators who are calling on his supporters to let go of their candidate of choice and embrace Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. And, given how close a number of polls are predicting Tuesday’s election will be, this Republican (and Democratic) effort to sway potential third party or write-in voters away from their independent plights should come of no surprise. To that end, supporters of both major presidential candidates generally tend to urge pollsters not to “waste” their vote come Election Day.
The strictly idealistic response to such a claim is simple. A democratic election is only valuable because it is reflective of opinion. An opinion, on the other hand, is valuable regardless of how reflective it is of a democratic election. To suggest, then, that one’s vote is meaningless if it fails to align itself with the political trends of any particular election is effectively to suggest that it is the democratic process which lends meaning and significance to one’s vote, rather than one’s vote which lends meaning and significance to the democratic process. Politics ought to respond to principle, rather than principle responding to politics. Because the democratic process becomes meaningless when it fails to be a true representation of the conscience of the body politic, it seems one’s vote is only ever meaningless if it fails to align itself with one’s conscience.
Still, if ideals prove to be an eye-roller, there remains a very real, practical reason for voting one’s conscience, regardless of whether or not that vote happens to fall within the two party system, that should find some resonance among free-market thinkers. Inherent within the assertion that “non-major-party votes are a waste” is the presupposition that the sole object of importance concerning elections is victory. Admittedly, this claim seems to bear some truth. After all, what is the point of an election, if not to discern the majority or “winning” opinion of the masses? However, for any number of Ron Paul or Gary Johnson supporters, it could be said this election isn’t necessarily about winning – at least it’s likely not about winning this particular, imminent election. For these voters, the practical benefit of voting idealistically, today, lies in the future. That is, through the voicing of an opinion distinct from the roar of the masses, the potential, practical benefit of making that minority opinion known, and by making it known, making it practically significant down the road, comes to be realized.
Just as occurs in the free market, where competition exists over all forms of exchange (financial, intellectual, etc.), the success of a product, no matter how small its manufacturer, inevitably draws the attention of said manufacturer’s competitors, of all sizes, due to their battle over consumers. If a small, startup company, like Dell in 1985, suddenly begins booming and taking business away from a major competitor, like HP, then HP is certain to notice and begin to offer the features in their products which Dell does in theirs, which are responsible for HP’s decrease in success. The same thing is true in democratic politics – moreover, in anything for which one person’s or one business’ success is contingent upon popular support. If Mitt Romney loses on Tuesday, then rest assured, the Republican Party is going to take notice of the independent voters to whom it failed to appeal, and be forced to nominate, in 2016, a candidate who offers the promises of any third party or write-in candidate who managed to take away any noticeable amount of votes from the former Massachusetts Governor, or run the risk of losing again, four years down the road. If Romney wins because Paul and Johnson people were persuaded to vote for the lesser of two evils, then perhaps the Republican Party was correct to dismiss their supporters as unimportant and fringe.
Given there are a number of voters who believe “a second term of Obama may just end any honest application of the Constitution once and for all,” it makes sense that even free-market thinkers might respond by urging independents to support Romney, the lesser of two evils, as the practicality of voting third party does not outweigh the practical necessity of voting the President out of office this year. However, in conceding your vote to one of the lesser of two evils, this or any other election, you’re essentially ensuring that your voting options will only ever be limited to a choice between two evils and never anything better. Your vote is your stamp of approval for the person or position to whom or to which you give it, and therefore effectively works to ensure similar candidates and positions remain relevant in the future, due to the apparent popular demand for them. An independent vote, therefore, works to demonstrate that such a demand does not exist. Like a vote for Romney or Obama, then, a vote for a fringe candidate is certainly not a waste and is certainly not impractical.
“Do you want Barack Obama to be re-elected?” Paul Ryan challenges Ron Paul supporters. The answer is not surprising. “No,” they respond. “That’s why I’m voting for Ron Paul.”