It’s the age old question; should you vote for the candidate whose positions are most in line with your own or the one that has the best shot to beat the opposing party?
In our two party system, voting for third party candidate in a general election throws a wrench in the process, making it less representative. We’ve seen this problem occur throughout history. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt who had already served two terms as President (the first being a partial term, taking over after President McKinley died in office), did not get the Republican nomination to run for a third term. William Taft would represent the Republican party, while Roosevelt would create the Progressive (AKA “Bull Moose”) party and oppose him. Woodrow Wilson would represent the Democratic Party and with the Republican vote split (23.2% for Taft, 27.4% for Roosevelt), Wilson would win the Presidency with just 41.8% of the popular vote.
More recently, in 1992 Ross Perot ran as an independent and sapped over 19 million votes from the two prime candidates, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. In an election where 56.4% of the votes went to conservative candidates (Bush and Perot), the liberal candidate won.
The 1912 and 1992 elections exemplify how a strong third party candidate in a general election actually makes the system less representative. Speaking about the Presidential Preference Primary though, does the same concept hold true? Should one vote for a candidate who they think can beat the opposition in the subsequent general election (in this cycle’s election that would mean the candidate that has the best chance to defeat Obama) or the candidate whose views actually align with one’s own most closely?
In the current Republican Presidential Primary, many voters want to be sure that their party picks a candidate that can beat Obama and his powerful political machine come November. As a means to that end, many are willing to vote for the candidate that they deem to be the most “electable,” instead of the one that would make the best president. While the logic is sound–a moderate Republican that appeals to Independents may have a better chance to win a general election–the long term consequences may not be worth it.
The party primaries are a time to pave the path for your party. They’re a time to assert the values of your party. Sacrificing those values to chose an “electable” candidate requires a denouncement of the importance of those core values. Additionally, choosing a candidate that doesn’t fit with the core values of the party for the sake of electability acknowledges that the values of your party are somewhat extreme–too extreme for the mainstream population. After an “electable” candidate wins, how can you go back to an “extreme” candidate? On CNN today, they called the entire Republican field extreme, but in reality most Republican voters find some candidates to be relatively moderate and think they have a better chance of beating Obama by attracting Independents and conservative Democrats.
The Independent voter block is a fickle mistress. I’ve always wondered how one can be well informed and still unsure of which party is more representative of their views. The differences are stark, which is why you see such a lack of cooperation on Capital Hill. Focusing on this voting block is a perilous proposition, and in doing so, you risk creating apathy in the base or even sparking a third party candidate to run closer to the true principles of your base.
Mitt Romney polls the best against President Obama, beating him in every poll I’ve seen. I think Romney would make a quality President, and I’ll be pleased if he’s the nominee. That said, come Super Tuesday, if he’s not my number one choice, I won’t hesitate to vote for a lesser known candidate like Rick Santorum or a less “electable” candidate like Newt Gingrich if they better represent my views and are not nearing mathematical elimination.
How do you view the situation? Will you vote for the candidate that would be the best for America or the one that you estimate will have the best shot of defeating President Obama?
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