The Two Party Fallacy

If you have ever considered voting for a third party, you’ve heard the Two Party Fallacy before: “Your vote for X is actually a vote for Y!” Just this week, I was told that if I choose to vote for someone other than Clinton or Trump,  I am actually voting for Clinton. It does not matter if I am choosing the candidate that I believe would do the best job, I am actually voting for Clinton if I choose anyone other than the Republican nominee. Partisan voters across the country make this argument and similar arguments to try to keep people together so that their preferred candidate can win.

This is a fallacy. To show this, let’s take a look at the logical arguments stemming from this claim and break them down.

The “Feasibility” argument. “There’s no way a third party candidate can win”, the partisan voter might say. The first thing the partisan voter would point to is history. “People within the two major parties are always the most successful ones” they might say. The only problem with that statement: it’s not true. Many different parties have arisen and had varying levels of success in American history. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt won 11 times more electoral votes than the Republican candidate William Taft. In fact, in 1824 there was only one party with 4 different candidates running! In addition, parties have died and risen numerous times throughout history, including the Republican Party, so it is safe to assume other parties outside the two ruling parties can be successful. Faced with this evidence, the partisan voter might say “well, there are a couple of exceptions, but it has nearly always happened the same way in the past so it will happen the same way in the future”. This is a logical fallacy. Simply because American politics has in the past favored two parties does not necessarily mean it has to always be that way. To say that we must support a candidate because the past justifies the future is to say “pick my terrible candidate because people in the past have picked one of two terrible candidates”. Obviously, I am not bound by the faulty strategies of my ancestors. The last argument the partisan voter might make in regards to feasibility is that not just anyone has a feasible chance to win a Presidential election. This claim is actually true. Not just anyone can win a Presidential election. Even if you think your High School History teacher is the best candidate for President, it is probably not justifiable to vote for them. However, it is justifiable to support and vote for someone who successfully jumped through the electoral hoops to get their name on a ballot, especially if they went through a primary process to do so, because to meet those qualifications they had to have at least some level of grassroots support.

The “Loyalty” argument may be the second reasoning the partisan voter may point to. By saying “Your vote for X is actually a vote for Y” is for the partisan voter to essentially say “you picked your party in the past and now you have to stand by them no matter who they put in front of you”. If you do not, the partisan voter implies, you are a traitor helping the other side. The problem with this argument: voting along party lines does not equal loyalty to that party nor does it mean you are signing a contract to always vote for that party. A party is a way for like-minded people to combine their influence to elect candidates that share their values. If the candidate does not share your values or does not earn your vote, then there is no reason you must vote for the party candidate. My vote is not already in the bank for a party even before the election occurs. My vote is a stamp approving candidates that share my convictions and can do the job, and until the party can prove to me that their candidate is the best man for the job, I have no obligation to vote for your candidate simply because people with similar ideology choose to vote for your candidate.

If the partisan voter continues to try to convince you, in a desperate attempt to land your support for their candidate, they may try to “fear” you into voting for their candidate. “If you do not vote for X, Y will destroy the country!”. This argument is usually hyperbolic, however, it can have some legitimacy to it. However, for your party candidate to have the higher ground, your fatalistic argument must be reasonable. Remember, it takes a lot to destroy a country as strong as the United States. A legitimate crisis must be imminent if, AND ONLY if, the other candidate gets elected for your argument to be legitimate. If the partisan voter believes there is a crisis that must be averted, then the burden of proof is on the partisan voter to prove to me that the danger to the country is more important than choosing the person that I believe will be the best President. In addition, the partisan voter must convince me that your preferred candidate is the solution to that danger, not my preferred candidate. If the partisan voter does not convince me of these things, that does not make my vote any less legitimate nor does it make my vote actually for someone I did not cast it for.

If you are a partisan voter and you are trying to force people into voting for “the lesser of two evils”, you are part of the problem. You are reinforcing the status quo that continues to give the American people inadequate candidates by trying to force people to rubber stamp candidates they know are bad. If America wants to receive better candidates, American voters must be open to better candidates. If America wants better politicians, the Two Party Fallacy must die.