In a famous episode of The Simpsons, Homer exposes both presidential candidates as in fact space aliens conspiring to take over the earth and enslave humanity. Among the watching crowd, one person proposes voting for a third-party candidate, and one of the aliens responds, “Go ahead! Throw your vote away!” after which Ross Perot in frustration punches through his hat. The episode ends showing that one of the aliens has in fact won the election.
Ross Perot’s 1992 independent campaign for US president received 18.9% of the popular vote, a larger percentage of the vote than any other candidate outside the two-party system since Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 bid to derail William Howard Taft’s reelection campaign (resulting in the election of Woodrow Wilson). Yet despite his success attracting individual voters, Ross Perot received no votes in the electoral college. Not since 1968 has any third-party candidate received any electoral college votes, apart from individual faithless electors who have not changed the outcome of the election. It is easy to see why many people consider voting for anyone other than the Republican or Democratic candidate is simply “throwing you vote away.” I would like to suggest a more nuanced analysis. (more…)