I know, this is a pretty political post, on a blog that was intended to be mostly about science and my experiences abroad. But during my time in Europe, I have been asked nearly as many questions about the ongoing US election as I have been asked about my academic work. The issue has sort of been forced; Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are international news and Americans can hardly travel abroad during this election without being asked something along the lines of "What are you people thinking?!"
One of my Danish classmates put it quite nicely "There are 300 million of you, and those two are the best you can come up with?"
I do offer my opinions on Trump and Clinton, but those are just my opinions, and I promised to stick to the facts in this post. The fact is, one of those two will be elected president of the United States. Right now it looks likely that it will be Clinton, but Trump clearly has a realistic shot at it. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, will not win. Jill Stein, The Green candidate, has only a fraction of even Johnson's support.
If it were only the top two, I admit that I would vote for Clinton. I agree with many of her positions, and I disagree with more of Trump's positions. Those are facts, so please don't pillory me for them in the comments section. I would rather Clinton win than Trump. So why would I consider not voting for Clinton? The answer is pretty simple, and involves not just facts, but numbers. Exciting!
If Gary Johnson wins at least 5% of the popular vote, the Libertarian Party gets public funding the next time around. From the Federal Election Commission website (bureaucracy warning):
Minor party candidates and new party candidates may become eligible for partial public funding of their general election campaigns. (A minor party candidate is the nominee of a party whose candidate received between 5 and 25 percent of the total popular vote in the preceding Presidential election. A new party candidate is the nominee of a party that is neither a major party nor a minor party.) The amount of public funding to which a minor party candidate is entitled is based on the ratio of the party's popular vote in the preceding Presidential election to the average popular vote of the two major party candidates in that election. A new party candidate receives partial public funding after the election if he/she receives 5 percent or more of the vote. The entitlement is based on the ratio of the new party candidate's popular vote in the current election to the average popular vote of the two major party candidates in the election.
I would like to see that happen, because it would be a crack in the armor of the two-party system that has given us this mess, and would make the Libertarians contenders the next time around. At a little over 5% of the popular vote, they'd receive about $10 million of grant money, plus some money for their convention. For a little perspective, that's more than three times the $3 million they've raised so far this campaign. It's enough money to make a big difference. OK, I lied. There was some opinion in there after all. But the numbers are real.
The other reason is that Clinton doesn't need my vote. That's thanks to the electoral college. All but two states are "winner take all" for their electoral votes. In states where one party consistently wins by landslides, the minority vote really doesn't count (though local candidates are a different story). I'm registered to vote in Maryland, and Clinton will win (though FiveThirtyEight does give Trump 0.4% chance of coming out on top). The only way those minority votes count for anything is if they can push a third party over the 5% threshold nationally.
Gary Johnson is presently polling from 7-13%. If those votes come through on election day, there will be a serious third option in the next election that no one will be able to keep out of the debates. I wouldn't make the same argument for Jill Stein because she's polling well below 5%. The numbers just aren't on her side this time around. If the Libertarians do manage to get any power, they are likely to use it to begin taking apart the two-party monopoly, which is good for all small political parties.
If your state is like most states and is sure to vote one way or the other, you may want to consider voting for Gary Johnson. For Democrats in red states, Republicans in blue states, Jill Stein Supporters, and other independents and progressives who are considering staying home on election day, Gary Johnson is an option to really have your vote matter. However you feel about him and his politics, a vote for him is also a vote against the two-party system. And in this election, it really counts.
But if you live in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, or Nevada, you may want to choose one of the two candidates likely to win. And if you choose Trump, I'm judging you.