Figures from Bernie Sanders to Paul Krugman to Elizabeth Warren, worried that millennials will support a third party candidate, are bombarding us with appeals to vote for Hillary Clinton. Their message: this election is too important to vote your conscience.
But this appeal ignores the reality of voting. Voting your conscience won’t hand the election to Trump, because your individual vote doesn’t matter.
Bryan Caplan, economics professor at George Mason University, calculated the odds of your vote mattering. The fact is that it’s very improbable, because for your vote to affect an election, the two candidates have to be within one vote of each other without you. If Trump earns 2,000,000 votes in a given state without your vote and Clinton earns 2,000,002, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you voted. The outcome wouldn’t change.
If you’re in one of the 39 non-swing states in the United States, your vote has no chance of changing the outcome. If you’re in California, it won’t matter if you vote for Trump; your electoral votes are going to Clinton.
But what about swing states? Even in the closest contest possible, the odds of your vote mattering are much less than the odds of you getting struck by lightning.
Let’s take the example of Colorado. In 2012, 2.56 million people in Colorado cast a vote for president. Even if Colorado’s a very competitive swing state this year (say, 51 percent odds that Clinton will win), your vote has less than a 1 in 10^100 (that’s 1 followed by 100 0s) chance of mattering. To put that in perspective, it’s much less likely than the odds of you getting struck by lightning on the way to the polling booth, while also winning the Powerball this year…twice.
And that’s assuming that Colorado is a very competitive state.
What if you’re in a swing state which is as close as humanly possible — all polls have Clinton and Trump in a dead heat, and the experts call your state a true toss-up? Even then, your vote won’t matter. Let’s say Colorado is perfectly competitive. The odds of your vote mattering are less than 1 in 4,000,000.
And bear in mind, no real state is ever this competitive. In a real state, the odds of your vote mattering are (at best) one in tens of billions.
So given your vote won’t hand the election to Trump, why shouldn’t you vote your conscience — whether it’s Stein, Johnson, or Vermin Supreme?
Johnson and Stein (and even Supreme) offer a real alternative to two major-party candidates who agree more than they disagree. For instance, Trump and Clinton both want to raise tariffs and keep recreational marijuana illegal. Both approve of eminent domain and supported U.S. action in Libya.
Third party candidates offer the only real contrast on a number of issues. Johnson wants freer trade. Both Johnson and Stein support legalizing marijuana and a less aggressive foreign policy.
More importantly, a vote for a third party candidate is a protest vote against a political duopoly that no longer represents your interests. It’s a vote against the two major parties, who claim that the Libertarians and Greens are “stealing” their votes by engaging in the democratic process.
It’s a protest against two political giants so comfortable with voters’ complacence that they nominated the two most disliked candidates in modern history.
The major parties and their partisans are not in favor of “protest” or “conscience” votes. But your vote only really matters to you. Given that, why not vote for something you actually believe in?
So go ahead and vote your conscience. It’s that, or throw away your vote.
Julian Adorney is a Young Voices Advocate, and an an inbound marketing specialist with Colorado SEO Pros. His writing has appeared in a number of outlets, including The Federalist, Fox Nation and FEE. Follow him @Julian_Liberty.