By Johanna Murray
“People need to hear that there is a voice that is not a Democrat or a Republican,” says May Ye, a senior piano performance major at Western Michigan University. Ye, who classifies herself as a social activist, says she’ll vote for a third party candidate in the upcoming presidential election.
Ye’s thinking may reflect a growing trend in the way Millennial voters view the traditional two-party system that has defined the American political process. Political scientists cite Duverger’s Law, which states single-member districts tend to favor two-party systems, making it difficult for third-party candidates to receive votes.
According to polling data, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are unpopular candidates in America. But, history demonstrates that a third party candidate is unlikely to win significant numbers of votes; meaning that Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will not likely become president. So why do candidates choose to run as a third party?
Donald Ramlow, a political science instructor at Western Michigan University, says that these candidates run to get a message across. For many, getting the message out is worth the work in a battle they know they’ll likely lose.
However, it isn’t impossible for these candidates to gain significant numbers of votes and alter the outcome of an election. Ross Perot, a businessman who ran in 1992 for the presidency as a member of the Independent Party, received 19 percent of the popular vote.
Prior to running for the presidency, Perot, a billionaire, was already an esteemed public figure due in part to best-selling author Ken Follett’s book On Wings of Eagles, that loosely chronicled his role in rescuing two businessmen from prison in Iran.
Because Perot achieved the Commission on Presidential Debates criterion of a minimum requirement of a 15 percent level of support, he was able to appear on the televised presidential debates.
Brianna Wissink, an assistant account executive for corporate affairs at the public relations firm Weber Shandwick, in Chicago, says that one’s relationship with the media increases their chances of being well known.
If a third party candidate can gain name recognition, like any branded product, they are likely to gain votes.
However, a third-party candidate who may not have enough votes to win can still have an effect on an election.
The spoiler effect, caused by vote splitting, occurs when a third-party candidate takes votes away from a similar candidate, resulting in the winning of the opposition party.
According to a New York Times/CBS News Poll, more than a third of 18- to 29-year-old voters said they would vote for a third party candidate. This leaves the possibility of the spoiler effect resulting in a win for the Republican Party in the November 2016 election.
Even with this information, May Ye is still confident in her third party vote decision. As a citizen of Maine, Ye, who is voting by absentee ballot, believes that her state will resoundingly turn out for Clinton, since Maine has voted Democratic in the past six elections. This causes her to believe that voting for a third party candidate will not invoke the spoiler effect, at least in her state.
Ye concludes, “I consciously feel better voting for someone who I know stands for my beliefs and I feel comfortable to vote third-party and not give my vote away.”