October 24, 2016

Liberal Voting in a Red State

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Wouldn't it be cool if presidential elections in the U.S. were based on the total popular vote without any of this electoral college and state-by-state nonsense? Red states and blue states would be irrelevant because elections would be determined by the total number of votes for each candidate across the entire country. National polls would be the only polls that mattered. Every individual vote would count equally no matter where the voter lived. As a result, voters might have a much greater motivation to participate in the process.

Of course, this is not how our system works. Far too many people still fail to understand this, but that does not change the reality that what I described above is not the system we currently have. Red states, blue states, and swing states still matter. National polls are largely irrelevant. As nice as it would be to have something different, we seem to be stuck with our current system for the time being. In fact, there seems to be little if any real momentum to change it.

In our current system, your vote in the general election matters a great deal if you live in a presidential swing state (i.e., a state that sometimes goes for the Democratic candidate and sometimes goes for the Republican candidate). Swing state voters really do have a say in determining the outcome of our presidential elections. If I lived in a swing state, I think it would be very difficult for me not to vote for Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump in our upcoming general election because I'd know that my vote could make a difference in deciding which of them wins the White House. Even though there is much I dislike about Clinton, I'd probably end up voting for her.

Obviously, not all voters are fortunate enough to live in swing states. Some live in states that might conceivably become swing states in the near future. These are states that have not been swing states in the past but that have been moving in that direction. For voters in these states, their votes might not matter a great deal yet but they could begin to matter soon. If I lived in a red state (i.e., a state that has reliably gone Republican in the past) that had been moving steadily toward becoming a swing state, I think it might be difficult for me not to vote for Clinton in the upcoming election. Even if I didn't expect my vote this year to influence the outcome of the election, I could imagine seeing my vote as helping to move the state toward becoming a swing state where a Democratic candidate could win in the not too distant future.

For other voters, voters like me as it so happens, the situation is much less positive. I am a left-leaning voter in a deep red state where it is extremely difficult to imagine any real movement toward becoming a swing state. This means that my votes for president in general elections really don't count in the sense of affecting the outcome of the presidential contest. The state votes for the Republican candidate each and every time by a large margin. And in our current electoral college system, that really does mean that my vote has no impact on the outcome. This puts me in a different situation from swing state voters and from voters who are in states which are becoming swing states. No matter who I vote for (even if I were to vote for Clinton), my vote is nothing more than a protest vote. The state will go for Trump, and my vote merely indicates that not 100% of its residents agree with that.

Given that my vote will inevitably be a protest vote, I could decide that not all protest votes are equivalent. That is, I might give some thought to the type of protest vote that I'd like to cast. For example, I might decide to vote for Clinton as a way of trying to communicate that there are at least some people here who are sometimes willing to support Democratic candidates. Over the long term, I suppose that could lead future Democratic candidates to consider setting foot in the state once in awhile. Alternatively, I could write in Bernie Sanders as more of a traditional protest vote. I won't do this because I don't see it accomplishing anything I'm interested in accomplishing. I am not now nor have I ever considered myself part of the #StillSanders camp, and I regularly shake my head in disbelief over those I see on social media who are still operating under the delusion that he will somehow win the presidency. I could also vote for a third party candidate (e.g., Jill Stein) in order to advance the long-term goal of increasing the viability of third parties in our political process. After all, the only way we will ever end up with viable third parties is if more people start voting for their candidates.

I know that some readers will find themselves tempted to argue that I should vote for Clinton because this could be the year that the state of Mississippi becomes a swing state. The last time Mississippi went for a Democrat was 1976 and that only happened because the Democratic candidate was an evangelical Christian from Georgia. "You never know; it could happen." Sure, and perhaps there are gods, ghosts, or ancient aliens too. The "anything's possible" argument doesn't hold much weight in these matters, and I'm not convinced it should in politics either. There are valid reasons to vote for Clinton, but this does not strike me as one of them.

Those who want to blame me if Trump is victorious (or praise me if I vote for Clinton and Clinton wins) do not seem to understand how our system works (or fails to work for liberal voters in red states that are not becoming swing states). I would love to have a system where a nationwide popular vote was all that mattered and states were irrelevant; however, this is not the system we have. The sad reality is that I live in a state that is going to go heavily for Trump. If I vote for Clinton, my vote could show anyone who might care that there are some people here willing to vote for Democrats, but it won't affect the outcome of who wins the presidency this year. And if I vote for a third party candidate, my vote could reflect some support for third parties, but it also won't affect the outcome of who wins the presidency this year.

The only upside to my situation as a liberal in a red state is that I am free to vote my conscience without having to worry about how my vote might affect the outcome of the election. I'd much rather be in a situation where I felt that my vote could influence the outcome of the election, but I have to make do with what I have. And so, I'll vote for the presidential candidate I'd most like to see in office no matter how flawed he or she may be while focusing more attention on the down-ballot races.
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