As the national election approaches, third-party candidates offer a viable alternative for a subsection of Yale voters dissatisfied with both major party candidates.
According to a survey conducted by the News in October, 2.49 percent of Yale student respondents are voting for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson and 0.83 percent is voting for Green Party nominee Jill Stein. While these two figures have generated the most attention and are polling higher than other third-party candidates in the race, they are not alone in the field. Evan McMullin, a former CIA operations officer, is also running as an independent candidate and is listed on the ballot in 11 states.
Because most students expressed support for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, Yale political science professor Eitan Hersh said he was not surprised by the News’ findings about the campus political landscape. There is a lot of public opposition and social taboo around voting for third-party candidates, Hersh said, particularly within the Democratic Party.
“The kinds of people who go to Yale tend to be better educated people,” Hersh said. “There’s a lot more opposition to [Donald] Trump among Republicans than there is opposition to Clinton among Democrats. And there are more people [who] couldn’t stomach voting for Trump in Yale’s environment than people who couldn’t stomach voting for Clinton.”
Hersh said third-party candidates must clear a funding hurdle because many lack the necessary volunteers and resources to launch a full-scale presidential campaign. And while Hersh said third-party candidates are often opposed by establishment parties, he noted that third-party candidates can often “energize a small mobile base.” He added that Democratic voters who do not like Clinton tend to reject third-party candidates because they worry about handing the election to what they see as a worse alternative — Trump.
Students interviewed echoed Hersh’s sentiment, noting that despite their reluctance to support the former secretary of state, a Trump victory would be far worse than a Clinton presidency.
“My friend in D.C. is voting for Stein because she doesn’t want to sell out her morals for Clinton, which I understand. But even though I’m also in a securely blue state, if I ended up voting for Stein, and then Trump — God forbid — ended up winning, I would feel like I made the wrong choice,” Prisca Dognon ’20 said.
Some Yale students who support major-party candidates said they were not opposed to third-party candidates entering the race, but many feel that in this election the stakes are too high to support a third-party.
Still, students who hail from securely blue or red states were more open to voting for third-party candidates because they felt their vote would make little difference in the overall state outcome.
“I will be voting in the state of Connecticut, which is solidly blue, so I don’t feel like I’ll be taking a vote away from Clinton,” said Gary Johnson supporter Seth Gregson ’19.
Gregson argued that his vote represents an ideological rift within the Republican establishment, which he said will help make the party relevant in the future.
Other Johnson supporters said that voting for Johnson helps solidify the Libertarian Party’s legitimacy. Gregson said Johnson needs only 5 percent of the popular vote in order to improve the Libertarian Party’s ability to be on ballots and participate in debates nationally. Libertarians have not been allowed on the ballot in states over the last four decades, and — with the exception of Johnson in 2012 — Libertarian runs for the presidency have garnered fewer than 1 million votes. In the current election, Johnson will be on the ballot in all 50 states, while Stein will be on the ballot in 45.
However, other Yale students disagreed with the assumption that casting a third-party vote in a solidly blue or red state would have no effect on the election.
“If a lot of people are having this opinion, then that’s very scary,” Clinton supporter Azaria King ’20 said. “One vote does matter, and when a lot of people have that mentality, then that turns into a lot of votes. Third parties are going to take votes away from crucial people that we need to win.”
Previous third-party presidential candidates have been accused of tipping elections. For example, the 2000 presidential run of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was later credited with handing the election to Republican nominee president George W. Bush ’68.
But third-party supporters do not see their votes this way.
Gregson and Johnson voter Alex Brod ’19 both said that a vote for Johnson is not the same as a vote for Trump, and prospective Stein voter David Diaz ’18 said he might cast his vote as a “protest” against Clinton.
Still, Diaz said he has not made up his mind, as he fears a Trump victory.
The Libertarian Party of Connecticut was founded in 1971, and in 2014 had 1,780 active registered members.