Sam Hodgson / The New York Times

Many Cornellians, including Cornell Republicans, have chosen to cast their votes for third-party candidates like Gary Johnson.

November 6, 2016

‘Disenchanted’ Students Seek Alternative to Clinton and Trump

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With the two most disliked candidates in American history heading the Democratic and Republican tickets, many voters are electing to vote third party, rebuffing accusations that they are throwing their votes away.

In some ways, the Cornell Republicans have been examples of this movement: the group broke party lines to endorse Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson over the Republican nominee on Sep. 4. Almost immediately after this decision, the New York Federation of College Republicans revoked the chapter’s credentials, chastising the organization for supporting another party’s candidate.

While the Cornell Republicans were eventually reinstated after a change in the federation’s leadership, their story is in many ways indicative of the vitriolic debate about the necessity of party loyalty that has plagued both the country and Ithaca’s campus.

While many in the two-party system decry a third-party pick as a wasted vote, Prof. Alexander Bateman, government, said the value of such a vote depends on what you hope to achieve with it.

“If you mean what are the odds that your vote will be decisive in winning the state for your candidate, then almost all votes are wasted — whether they are for major or minor party candidates, but even more so for the latter,” Bateman said. “There is no reason for this notion to change until minor parties become competitive.”

Still, Bateman stressed that citizens often see their votes as a chance to send a clear message to politicians about how they hope the political climate will change. Casting a ballot for a third party can thus be considered a protest vote, expressing disillusionment with establishment candidates.

“Being decisive is not the only reason we vote, or else very few people would vote,” Bateman said. “As good citizens we have responsibilities to engage in politics, to try and reshape the terms of politics in a direction that we believe in, and to be true to our foundational individual and collective commitments.”

Cornell Republicans Chair Olivia Corn ’19 said that although she is not generally in favor of voting third party, she was displeased with the binary choices on the ballot this election.

“The third-party candidates differ because they have not experienced the scandals of Hillary Clinton and they do not have the behavioral issues of Donald Trump,” Corn said. “Everyone should vote for the candidate that best represents them.”

Agreeing with Corn, Cornell Republicans Executive Director Austin McLaughlin ’18 stressed the value of voting for candidates whose policies best align with personal preferences.

“Voting third-party is considered ‘throwing away a vote’ because the nature of the first-past-the-post system in the United States encourages two parties to rise to the top and discourages third parties,” McLaughlin said. “There is something to be said for voting your conscience, both as a protest vote and as one based in principles, instead of voting for the lesser of two evils.”

The Cornell Democrats by contrast, strongly support Clinton and feel differently about third party voting in this election, citing the dangers of helping Trump ascend to the White House.

“A vote for Clinton is the only way to defeat Trump, and the only way to move our country forward,” said Kevin Kowalewski ’17, president of Cornell Democrats.

He discourages Cornellians from voting for third party candidates, even if they will not be casting their ballots in a swing state.

“While a third-party vote in New York may not affect the electoral college, it will narrow Trump’s margin of defeat in the national popular vote,” he said. “We need to show that we decisively reject Trump’s assault on our electoral process and his despicable record of bigotry. In this effort, every single vote for Clinton matters.”

In addition to voting for a main candidate for strategic purposes, Kowalewski argued against voting for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein, calling them both “distinctly flawed.”

However, the disenchantment many people feel with mainstream candidates is understandable in today’s political climate, according to Prof. Lee Adler, Industrial and Labor Relations.

“Politics really stinks just now, especially at the national level,” Adler said. “Both major parties are responsible for creating this mess, as they have failed the American people by refusing to pass laws that better distribute our wealth and pursue foolish wars while neglecting the needs of average working Americans.”

Nate Baker ’17, a member of the Cornell Political Union, added that the polarized politics have led many young people to become frustrated with the state of the system.

“Growing up in the era of gridlock has disenchanted many young voters from tradition party affiliation,” Baker said. “We don’t feel loyal to a party, but rather to values, to candidates and to ideology.”

As third party candidates gain traction with young people across the country — according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 60 percent of millennials said that they would consider voting third party — mainstream parties may be forced to shift in order to accommodate voters who are loyal to ideas rather than party lines. While Cornell Democrats and Republicans were ultimately able to present united fronts in this election, the trends suggest this stability may only be temporary.