Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why protest votes are counter-productive

Before starting on this post, I should probably make clear that it's only relevant in relation to the US political system, not in relationship with the other, more democratic political systems, which many of us live under (where it is actually possible for more than two parties to exist on a national level).

It is getting close to the midway elections in the US, where a number of members of congress are going to get elected, rather than the president. Still, the president's popularity traditionally has a lot of effect on the midway election, which is often considered a referendum on his (so far, it is always a he) policies.

A lot of people who voted for President Obama has become disillusioned by him and indeed the whole Democratic party, and are now talking about either not voting or to vote for a 3rd party or even for the Republican candidates.

I would strongly recommend against this.

As the current US electional system works, voting for a 3rd party is basically throwing your vote away. Not logging a protest, but wasting the vote, and in the process harming your side.

Why?

Well, two reasons:
1) You can be sure that Republicans are going to vote for their candidate, even if they dislike him or her. Yes, there will be some Libertarians who are going to vote 3rd party, but they are a very small minority. The rest vote party line.

2) Paradoxically, the US politicians pander for those voters who have proven that they will support them, rather than those voters they feel they might get to support them. When the moderates left the Republican party during the Bush years (and under the Palin candidacy), it didn't make the Republicans stop up and try to win them back. No, instead they went full in for the Christian right.

This would mean that if all the left-leaning Democratic voters would abandon the party, the Democratic party would not try to win them back, but instead they would rather try to keep the right-leaning Democrats, and perhaps even win more from among the Republican ranks.

In other words, it would be a counter-productive move for those who left the party because they didn't feel their voices were heard. They might not have been heard, but they definitely won't be in the future.

So, should the Democratic Party just be able to take the progressive voters' votes for granted? Well, if the alternative is the Republican Party, then yes. Hell, yes. Progressives might say that there really is not difference between the two parties, but if they really believe that, they need to have their heads examined.

Yes, the current administration is not as progressive on many issues as many of us would like, but they are noting like the Bush administration. We are complaining about how slow Obama is in rolling back the mess from the Bush administration - that's completely different from creating the mess in the first place.

Some Democratic candidates are so far right that it is hard to see the differences between them and some Republicans, but if you look at the voting record, almost all Democrats have a much better track record on progressive issues than their Republican counterparts. What's more, in those races where those democrats run, the race is not between a right-wing Democrat and a moderate Republican, but rather between a right-wing Democrat and a so-far-right-it's-not-funny Republican.

In the end, it might sound like I am arguing for progressives just rolling over and surrendering their votes to the Democratic part en bloc. I don't. I think progressives should participate in the primaries, and get progressive candidates selected for the election. This is the strategy the Tea Baggers have chosen, and it has made the Republican Party give them much more attention that they are really due, if one takes a look at the numbers. Also, 3rd party alternatives are also great on the local level.

It seems to be the attitude in the US that parties are build top-down - first you run for president, then you try to gain access to congress, but in the rest of the democratic world, parties are built from the bottom-up. Locals get together and form a party which get elected to local political organs (or even national organs), and then they demonstrate their policies, gaining a reputation for the next election, which they might cash in on, gaining more votes etc. It's not a short-term strategy, but it works. Even in countries where there has traditionally been a political system very similar to the US (e.g. the Green Party in Australia and the Liberal Democrats in the UK).

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