Polarization and De Facto Partition

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I started this post on the day before election day.

Don’t you have the feeling that Election 2016 will result in greater political polarization, not less? I do.

For one thing, both Clinton and Trump are polarizing figures. It seems unlikely that either of them will do things (or try to do things) that will gain the approval of their political opponents.

For another thing, whatever is done by the president, by Congress, or by the Supreme Court in the next four years will simply fuel the outrage of those who oppose it. When government steers to the left, it usually isn’t far enough to the left to satisfy the growing and vocal band of leftists in America, but it always outrages the right. When government steers to the right, it always enrages the left, but it’s never far enough to the right to restore liberty, thus disappointing and further alienating the right.

The underlying trend toward bigger and more intrusive government is especially frustrating for those of us on the right. It seems that no matter which party controls the White House and Congress, the bureaucracy continues to churn out regulations and the Supreme Court (usually) issues edicts that undermine traditional morality and endorse the central government’s interfering ways.

Political polarization is aided and abetted by geographic sorting, and geographic sorting must aid and abet political polarization. Consider how far geographic sorting has come since 1992:

As of 2012, the divide was pretty wide. Half of all voters were living in a county that President Obama or Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee that year, won in a landslide, which is defined here as a county won by 20 percentage points or more.

The proportion of voters living in landslide counties has steadily increased since 1992, a trend that reflects the growing tendency of like-minded people to live near one another, according to Bill Bishop, a co-author of “The Big Sort,” a 2008 book that identified this phenomenon.

Americans have been self-segregating by lifestyle, though not necessarily politics, for several decades, Mr. Bishop said, but lifestyle has grown to reflect politics. “We’re sorting by the way we live, think and — it turns out — every four years or every two years, how we vote.”

Some political scientists expect the landslide trend to continue in the 2016 presidential election. “If anything, I think we’ll see it intensify because Trump has been doing very well among the kinds of voters who tend to live in rural and small-town America,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. [Gregor Aisch, Adam Pearce, and Karen Yourish, “How Large Is the Divide between Red and Blue America?The New York Times, November 4, 2016]

Perhaps the most compelling statistic of the many statistics presented in the article is that the percentage of voters living in landslide counties rose from 37 percent in 1992 to 50 percent in 2012. The United States truly has become a nation divided.

Something has to give. But what, and how? I addressed those questions in “Independence Day 2016: The Way Ahead,” and concluded that

unless there is a negotiated partition of the country — perhaps in response to a serious secession movement — a coup is probably the only hope for the restoration of liberty under a government that is true to the Constitution.

The alternative is a continuation of America’s descent into despotism, which — as many Americans already know — is no longer the “soft” despotism foreseen by Tocqueville.

I’ve mentioned the possibility of a coup in several posts, but always with skepticism. I remain skeptical. Given the increasing polarization of the country — political and geographic — something like a negotiated partition seems like the only way to make the left and the right happier.

And then it occurred to me that a kind of partition could be achieved by constitutional means; that is, by revising the Constitution to return to its original plan of true federalism. The central government would, once again, be responsible for the defense of liberty and free trade. Each State would, within the framework of liberty, make its own decisions about the extent to which it intervenes in the economic and social affairs of its citizens.

How might that come to pass?

There are today in this land millions — probably tens of millions — of depressed leftists who foresee at least four years of GOP rule dedicated to the diminution of the regulatory-welfare state.

Obamacare is almost certainly dead. It has been dying of its congenital defects, but I expect Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress to put a stake through its heart.

Trump’s nominee to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court probably will be someone closer in judicial philosophy to Antonin Scalia than to Anthony Kennedy. (If it isn’t, Trump may well find himself embarrassed by the GOP-controlled Senate’s rejection of his nominee.) As other vacancies arise during the next few years — and there’s likely to be at least one — they’ll probably be filled by constitutional conservatives. (The GOP-controlled Senate can and should change its rules about Supreme Court nominations to keep Democrats from filibustering Trump’s nominees.) Trump’s one or two nominees will move the Court back to the right, and probably will serve for decades. At any rate, that’s what conservatives hope and leftists fear.

What else? Here’s what I expect (or at least hope for): The end of preaching about race, having “conversations” about it, pretending that it isn’t implicated in violent crime, and turning a blind eye toward violence committed in the name of “racial justice.” The end of uncontrolled (and encouraged) illegal immigration. Reaffirmation of America’s long-standing ties with Israel, the Middle East’s bastion of democracy Western values. Repudiation of the phony deal with Iran. An end to pussy-footing around the relationship between Islam and terrorism. The reversal of anti-growth and anti-business executive orders and regulations (e.g., the EPA’s war on coal) issued in the name of “social justice” and “climate change.” The repeal of Dodd-Frank and its onerous micro-management of the financial industry. The end of efforts to undermine the Second Amendment. The end of the Department of Justice’s meddling in State and local matters to advance a leftist agenda in the name of “civil rights.” An end to similar meddling (and related funding) by the Department of Education — perhaps even an end to the Department of Education. And, generally, a much more hands-off attitude on the part of the federal bureaucracy when it comes to matters beyond the constitutional purview of the central government (which is most matters now consuming the attention of the federal bureaucracy).

I could go on and on, but you get the idea of what conservative expect (or hope for) and leftists fear. And therein is the source of political pressure that could bring about something like a partition of the United States.

The shoe is now on the other foot. A lot of leftists will want out (see this for example), just as Northern abolitionists wanted separation from the South in the 1830s and 1840s. Let’s give them a way out while the giving is good, that is, while the GOP controls the federal government. The way out for the left is also the way out for conservatives.

Congress, namely, its Republican majorities, can all an Article V convention of the States:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress….

Note that the requirement for a two-thirds majority pertains only to amendments proposed by Congress. As for applications by the States, there seem to be enough unexpired and unrescinded applications on hand. And if there aren’t, they probably can be arranged in short order.

The convention would be controlled by Republicans, who control a majority of State legislatures. The Republican majority should make it clear from the outset that the sole purpose of the convention is to devolve power to the States. For example, if a State government wants to establish its own version of Social Security to supplement what remains of it after future benefits have been scaled back to match projected future revenues, that State government wouldn’t be prevented from doing so. And it could design that program — and any others — as it wishes, free from interference on by the central government.

To accomplish that devolution, the Convention of the States would consider and approve, for ratification by three-fourths of the States, a revised Constitution. A complete revision, rather than a series of amendments, would be easier for the citizens of the various States to understand and respond to as they voice their views to State legislators or convention delegates.

At this point, I refer you to the page that I’ve created, called “A Constitution for the 21st Century.” It cures the main problem with the present Constitution of the United States, which is not its actual meaning but the fact that inappropriate meanings have been imputed to it because it is too often vague and ambiguous, and because Congresses, presidents, and Supreme Courts have been unfaithful to it for several generations.

The new Constitution is not only far more specific than the present Constitution — and more restrictive of the powers of the central government — but it also includes more checks on those powers. For example, there are these provisions in Article V:

Congress may, by a majority of three-fifths of the members of each House present, when there is a quorum consisting of three-fourths of the number of persons then holding office in each House…provide for the collection of revenues in order to pay the debts and expenses of the government of the United States [emphasis added]….

A judgment of any court of the government of the United States may be revised or revoked by an act of Congress, provided that such any revision or revocation is approved by two-thirds of the members of each house and leads to a result that conforms to this Constitution.

Then there are Articles VII and VIII, Keeper of the Constitution and Conventions of the States, which begin as follows:

The responsibility for ensuring that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches adhere to this Constitution in the exercise of their respective powers shall be vested in a Keeper of the Constitution. The Keeper may review acts of Congress, the executive branch, and judicial branch that have the effect of making law and appropriating monies….

Delegations of the States shall convene every four years for the purpose of considering revisions to and revocations of acts of the government established by this Constitution. Such conventions (hereinafter “Convention [or Conventions] of the States”) may revise and/or revoke any act or acts and/or any holding or holdings, in the sole discretion of a majority of State delegations present and voting.

On top of that, there is Article IX, which authorizes petitions and subsequent elections for the revocation of a broad range of governmental acts and the expulsion of members of Congress, the President, Vice President and justices of the Supreme Court. Also, a constitutional convention may be called pursuant to a successful petition.

To the extent that Articles VII, VIII, and IX would inhibit presidential and congressional ventures into unconstitutional territory, so much the better.

This new Constitution also provides for secession, the threat of which might further help to preserve its original meaning.

The job of selling the new Constitution would be a tough one, but the key selling point should be the preservation of choice. Individual States could be as socialistic or laissez-faire as their citizens allow, and the wide range of governing styles would afford ample choice for Americans. It would become much easier for every American to live in a politically congenial place.

Related posts:
Well-Founded Pessimism
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Culture War
O Tempora O Mores!
A Home of One’s Own
Democracy, Human Nature, and the Future of America
Surrender? Hell No!
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?

I Can’t Resist…

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…quoting from my final forecast of the outcome of Election 2016:

Most aggregations of polls give Clinton a narrow lead, which (according to the polls) has increased in the past few days. Some reliable, independent polls tell a different story….

Trump’s momentum may have slowed, but it won’t take much to push him over the top.

If Trump ekes out 51 percent of the two-party vote, he’ll win upwards of 300 electoral votes. (That estimate is based on my model of the relationship between the popular-vote and electoral-vote outcomes in elections since World War II.)  How would he get there? Here’s a scenario that fits the demographics of the various States:

  • Obama beat Romney 332-206 in the electoral-vote tally four years ago.
  • Clinton could take two States won by Romney in 2012: Georgia (16 EVs) and Utah (6).
  • Trump could more than offset those 22 EVs by taking several States won by Obama in 2012: Florida (29), Iowa (6), Maine (4), Michigan (16), Nevada (6), New Mexico (5), Ohio (16), Pennsylvania (20), and Wisconsin (10).

That would leave Clinton with 240 EVs to Trump’s 298. There are many plausible variations on the scenario that would leave Trump with a majority of EVs, or result in a tie.

It looks as if I was too cautious. At this moment (5:18 a.m. CST, 11/09/16), Trump and Clinton are practically 50-50 in the two-party vote, and Clinton probably will end up ahead. But, as I (and many others) have noted, a GOP candidate can win the electoral vote with less than 50 percent of the two-party vote because the electoral vote count is weighted toward smaller States, which tend to vote Republican.

In any event, Trump held Georgia and Utah, and so far has taken Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He’s leading in Michigan, and may even take New Hampshire.

Clinton has conceded to Trump, which probably settles matters, though Gore conceded to Bush in 2000 and then withdrew his concession. But that was all about Florida. Trump seems to have unquestionably won. (Fingers tightly crossed.)

The even better news is that the GOP has held the Senate, and will end up with a majority of 52 or 53 to 47 or 48 (counting so-called independents as Democrats). Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court won’t be filled by another Scalia, but it also won’t be filled by a Clinton appointee.

My fondest hope is that Trump will stick to his word about the kind of Supreme Court justice he would appoint. If he does that, it will be good news if and when Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kennedy, and even Roberts dies or retires. In fact, I’d like to see Kennedy go first, followed quickly by Ginsburg and Breyer.

Election 2016

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REVISED AND UPDATED 11/03/16

If you’re new to my fearless forecast of the coming election, here’s what I do: I begin with the popular vote, then use statistical relationships that I’ve derived from past elections to translate the popular vote split into electoral votes and changes in the composition of the House and Senate.*

11/03/16 — I caught Reuters cheating (as discussed below), so I no longer use that poll in computing my baseline forecast. The baseline forecast still portends a victory by Clinton, though her lead is shrinking:

  • Clinton takes 51 percent of the two-party popular vote, as against 49 percent for Trump.
  • Clinton wins 276-312 electoral votes, leaving Trump with 226-262.
  • Given the Trump-Clinton split (which isn’t yet a given), the GOP will lose no more than 4 House seats, retaining a solid majority of at least 243-192, though a loss of as many as 16 seats (for a 231-204 split) isn’t out of the question.
    • And given the same Trump-Clinton split, the GOP might not lose a Senate seat, leaving that chamber with 54 Republicans and 47 Democrats (counting the so-called independents as Democrats). However, a 2-seat loss is strong possibility. That would leave the GOP with 52 seats to retain a nominal majority. But the defection of 2 RINOs would leave the Senate tied at 50-50. And if Killer Kaine becomes vice president, his tie-breaking vote would hand control of the Senate to Democrats.

Now, the big picture. The scale for polling results is on the left axis. Additional indicators are measured on the right axis.**

FIGURE 1
election-indicators

The key events represented by vertical black lines are the first Trump-Clinton debate on September 26, the release of the infamous “Trump tape” on October 7, the second debate on October 9, the third debate on October 19, and James Comey’s announcement on October 28 that the FBI had re-opened the investigation into Clinton’s e-mails.

Just how far south (for Clinton) will things turn? To get a handle on that question, I’ve plotted some polling results since the third debate:

FIGURE 2
clinton-vs-trump-in-5-polls-since-oct-9_2

The points plotted at November 8 represent the linear trend in each poll since its most recent peak. The trend lines fit the actual and projected plot points.

Compare the Reuters values with those that I plotted yesterday. Caught cheating for Clinton, and thereby ejected.***

So the valid trends all point to a win for Trump, albeit a narrow one in the case of the RCP 2-way poll. My gut feeling (as of now) is that Trump’s margin of victory in the two-party popular vote is unlikely to exceed 4 percentage points. And he could still lose. Projections (like regression analysis) are accurate only in their representation of the past.

Where will it end? Stay tuned.
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* I start by averaging the current split between Trump and Clinton in these polls and aggregations of polls:

  • the Reuters poll, which is heavily skewed toward Clinton, but which I’ve adjusted to the  account for the likely direction of respondents who now say that they’ll vote for Johnson, Stein, or “other,” or who respond “wouldn’t vote” or “don’t know”
  • the two-way (Clinton vs. Trump “poll of polls” at RealClearPolitics (RCP), which I adjust as discussed in this post
  • RCP’s 4-way poll (Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein), similarly adjusted to account for likely defections from voters who say that they prefer Johnson, Stein, or “other”
  • and, for balance, the IBD/TIPP poll, which has a good track record, a high rating from FiveThirtyEight, and is somewhat of an outlier in that it’s less favorable to Clinton than the preceding polls. (I’ve also adjusted this poll to account for the likely direction of respondents who say that they’ll vote for Johnson, Stein, or “other,” or who respond “not sure.”)

** In addition to the Reuters, RCP, and IBD/TIPP polls (see preceding footnote), the graph includes the USC/LA Times poll, which is another Trump-leaning one. All of these polling results are plotted on the left axis.

These are the additional indicators, plotted on the right axis:

  • the Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM) Winner-Take-All (WTA) market, where the IEM WTA line represents the percentage-point spread between the percentage of money bet on Clinton and Trump
  • Rasmussen’s approval index for Obama (percentage of respondents strongly approving of his performance minus the percentage strongly disapproving), which I report because perceptions of Obama’s performance are likely to rub off on Clinton.

I plot all of the values against the dates on which polling was conducted or bets were made, not the dates on which results were released. And in the case of multi-day polling, I use the central date of the polling period. Therefore, almost all of the indicators are slightly out-of-date, a fact that one should consider when interpreting the indicators — especially if the race continues to tighten.

*** I said this yesterday:

I must draw your attention to the downward trajectory of the Reuters poll. Of the polls that I track, it has been and continues to be the most favorable to Clinton.

The following graph, from yesterday’s version of this post, is the one that inspired my statement:

clinton-vs-trump-in-5-polls-since-oct-9

I derived the values for the Reuters poll from results that appeared briefly online and then were withdrawn. New values, much more favorable to Clinton appeared this morning and are included in figure 2 (above).

My Platform

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A voting guide published in my local newspaper asks seven questions of the presidential candidates. I list them below, with the answers that I would give were I a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

Question 1: What is your personal statement?

I am sick and tired of the nanny state, which is centered in Washington DC and extends into almost every city, town, and village in America.

Question 2: What are your top three goals?

Economic and social liberty for all Americans; protection of the lives, liberty, and property of innocent Americans; defense of Americans’ legitimate overseas interests.

Question 3: What will you do to support a vibrant economy across the U.S.?

I will send legislative proposals to Congress that will deregulate the economy; eliminate the death tax and corporate income taxes; reduce the central government to its essential and legitimate functions (mainly national defense), and cut taxes accordingly; and phase out all unconstitutional federal programs (which is most of them), beginning with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I will revoke all executive-branch policies that are contrary to the program spelled out in the preceding sentence.

Question 4: What, if any, actions will you support to create a pathway to citizenship?

I will ask Congress to deter illegal immigration by eliminating welfare programs that attract it; to provide the manpower and technical means to prevent, detect, and prosecute illegal immigration; and to establish more stringent citizenship requirements, including demonstrated proficiency in English. I will revoke all executive-branch policies that are contrary to the program spelled out in the preceding sentence.

Question 5: What should government do to provide an equitable, quality public education for all children pre-K through grade 12?

The central government should have no role in the funding of education or in the making of policies related to it. I will make one exception, for liberty’s sake, which is to propose an amendment to the Constitution that would require every State (and therefore the subordinate jurisdictions in every State) to allow parents to choose the schools to which they send their children, and to give vouchers to parents who choose private schools. The value of each State’s voucher would be the average cost of educating a child in grades K-12 in that State. (It would be up to each State to decide how to recover the shares owed by local jurisdictions.)

Question 6: What actions would you support the U.S. undertake to protect its interests abroad?

In view of the rising Russian and Chinese threats to Americans’ overseas interests — and the persistent threat posed by terrorist organizations — I will ask Congress to rebuild the nation’s armed forces, at least to the levels attained as a result of President Reagan’s buildup; to provide for the acquisition of superior, all-source intelligence capabilities; to support a robust research and development program for defense and intelligence systems; and to provide the funding needed to fully man our armed forces with well-trained personnel, and to keep the forces in a high state of readiness for sustained combat operations.

Regarding the use of armed forces, I will act immediately and vigorously to defend Americans’ legitimate overseas interests, which include international commerce around the globe, and to protect resources that directly affect international commerce (e.g., oil-rich regions on land and at sea). As necessary, I will seek the authorization of Congress to conduct sustained combat operations for those purposes.

I will not otherwise use or seek the approval of Congress to use the armed forces of the United States, which are maintained at great cost to Americans for the benefit of Americans. Those forces are not maintained for the purpose of defending countries that refuse to spend enough money to defend themselves, nor to “build nations” or engage in humanitarian operations that have no direct bearing on the safety of Americans or their interests. By the same token, America’s armed forces should be used to help defend nations that attempt to defend themselves and whose defeat would destabilize regions of strategic value to Americans’ interests.

Finally, I will not enter into treaties or agreements of any kind with the leaders of nations whose aim is clearly to undermine Americans’ legitimate economic interests. To that end, I will renounce Barack Obama’s agreement with Iran, his endorsement of the Paris agreement regarding so-called anthropogenic global warming, and all other agreements detrimental to the interests of Americans.

I will further ask to Congress to direct by law that the United States withdraw from the United Nations, which serves mainly as a showplace for regimes hostile to Americans’ constitutional ideals and interests. The U.N. will be given two years in which to remove all of its offices and personnel from the United States. I expect the U.N. to become overtly hostile to the United States when this country has withdrawn from it, but those member states who provoke and finance hostile acts on the part of the U.N. will be held to account, and will not be able to hide behind the false front of the United Nations.

Question 7: What kinds of policies will you pursue to promote social and racial justice for all Americans?

I will nominate judges and executive-branch officials who are demonstrably faithful to the Constitution of the United States, as its various portions were understood when they were ratified or modified through Article V amendments. This will mean the reversal of many judicial and executive actions that are contrary to the moral traditions that underlie the greatness of America, and which have been contravened arbitrarily to serve narrow interests and misguided ideologies. I am especially eager to defend life against those who seek to destroy and defile it, and to see that there is truly “equal protection of the law” by restoring freedom of speech and association where they have been suppressed in the name of equal protection.

Social and moral issues such as same-sex marriage should be decided by the States, and preferably by the people themselves, through the peaceful and voluntary evolution and operation of social norms. Such issues are outside the constitutional purview of the central government.

A Lesson in Election-Rigging

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A leading story on yesterday’s NBC evening news broadcast trumpeted an ABC News poll showing Hillary with a 12-point lead over The Donald. It could have been a story about polls in which NBC News participates: The latest NBC News/SM poll gives Clinton an 8-point edge, and the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Clinton up by 10 points. Or it could have been about the latest CBS News poll, which has Clinton leading by 11 points.

Why single out a poll that’s not representative of the world of polling? Why not trumpet the the overall average computed by FiveThirtyEight, a reputable outfit spawned by The New York Times? The answer is that FiveThiryEight‘s consensus forecast gives Clinton only a 6-point edge. (As do I.)

Why do you suppose FiveThirtyEight reports “only” a 6-point edge for Clinton? Because it adjusts for the bias inherent in polls like those conducted by ABC, CBS, and NBC.

And why do you suppose that the three networks conduct and report polls biased in Clinton’s direction, just as they routinely conduct and report polls biased toward Democrats? To ask the question is to answer it.

What better way to rally Clinton voters (and Democrats generally) while discouraging Trump voters (and Republicans generally) than to make a Clinton victory (or any Democrat victory) seem inevitable?

If presidential elections in America are in any sense “rigged,” they’re rigged by the pro-Democrat bias of the mainstream media, which comes through loud and clear on ABC, CBS, and NBC (and others). The bias shows up not only in what stories those networks choose to run and how they report those stories; it also shows up in the polls that they conduct and their reporting on those polls.

The Trump Tape

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You know the one I mean, and you know what Trump says on it. So I won’t link to it or quote it. What I will do is ask (and try to answer) the crucial question: What happens now?

Specifically, is Trump a goner? Well, there’s evidence that he was already a goner. So what happens now is that a lot of people who were planning to vote for Trump, or who might have voted for him, will switch to Clinton, Johnson, Stein, or “other” — or they simply won’t bother to vote. As a result, there’ll be a lot fewer down-ballot votes for Republicans in other races. Perhaps not enough to give Democrats control of the House, but perhaps enough to give Democrats control of the Senate.

And therein lies the really bad news. If the Dems can muster 50 senators, they will control the Senate because the VP will be a Democrat. And even if the election ends with, say, 52 Republicans in the Senate, it won’t be hard for the Democrats to entice two RINOs to move across the aisle.

You know what will happen to the Supreme Court with Hillary in the White House and her party in control of the Senate. That’s the really bad news.

Would it matter if Trump were to withdraw from the race? As I understand the States’ laws about putting names on ballots, Trump’s name would remain at the top of the GOP ticket. But the party could heavily advertise the idea that the electors from each State nominally won by Trump would instead vote for Pence. (The electors couldn’t be forced to do so, but as party loyalists, I expect that most of them would do so.)

Would that stratagem prevent a lot of voters from switching their votes away from Trump or sitting it out? I doubt it. It’s just too damn sophisticated and uncertain And a lot of voters simply won’t want to associate themselves in any way with Trump. It’s psychological thing. And it will weigh heavily, even in the secrecy of the voting booth.

Bottom line: Trump is toast. Hillary wins (unless there’s a bigger counter-scandal in the wings). Democrats have a good shot at taking control of the Senate. The Supreme Court may then continue to violate the Constitution and march Americans more rapidly down the road to serfdom.

Should You Vote for a Third-Party Candidate?

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Inspired by Brandon Morse’s simple-minded posts at RedState.

If you live in a State where there’s little or no doubt as to which candidate will prevail, your vote doesn’t matter. Your vote for a third-party candidate may make you feel good, but it almost certainly won’t affect the outcome of the election. In fact, a lot of such votes probably won’t affect the outcome of the election. So cast that third-party vote and make your day.

But if you live in a State where the race is likely to be tight, it may matter — especially if there are enough voters who choose to withhold their votes from Trump or Clinton. It mattered in 2000, for example, when the votes cast in for Nader in Florida would have given that State to Gore, who was probably the second choice of most pro-Nader voters.

Consider a voter with a plausible set preferences who lives in a “battleground” State:

  1. You’re a fiscal and social conservative, and you usually vote Republican but can’t stand Trump. Protest votes for a third-party candidate (probably Gary Johnson) will mean fewer votes for Trump, and therefore a boost for Clinton. So protest votes for Johnson (vice Trump) will help Clinton, who cannot possibly be more conservative than Trump on fiscal or social issues.
  2. You’re a fiscal and social liberal, and you usually vote Democrat but can’t stand Clinton. Protest votes for a third-party candidate (probably Jill Stein) will mean fewer votes for Clinton, and therefore a boost for Trump. So protest votes for Stein (vice Clinton) will help Trump, who cannot possibly be more liberal than Clinton on fiscal or social issues.
  3. You’re a middle-of-the-roader who usually votes for the Republican or Democrat who most appeals to you, but you can’t stand Trump or Clinton. Regardless of your distaste for Trump and Clinton, you probably consider one of them to be the lesser of two evils on issues of most importance to you. Protest votes for third-party candidates will help the greater of two evils by reducing the vote count of the lesser of two evils.

Generalizing:

  1. Only Trump or Clinton will win the election. No one else has a chance of winning.
  2. If you’re truly indifferent between Trump and Clinton, it doesn’t matter what you do. You can flip a coin to choose between them; you can flip a coin (or two) and choose among the third-party candidates; or you can abstain from voting for a presidential candidate.
  3. But if you’re not truly indifferent between them, if one of them is merely the lesser of two evils, then your vote for someone else (Johnson, Stein, Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy) means one less vote for the lesser of two evils. In which case, you’re voting against your own interest because you’re giving an edge to the greater of two evils.

Enough said.

Related post: Economists and Voting