If you are involved with American politics, you might be aware of the old adage “vote the lesser of two evils.”
This saying has never seemed so true for many Americans, especially in the climate surrounding this year’s presidential election. How did this happen, and what – if anything — can be done?
To start off, one has to understand how the two-party system works and how it matured to be as it is.
Political parties have been around in the United States since George Washington left the presidency (with a stern warning against creating political parties that went entirely unheeded).
The first parties were known as the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties. They mainly feuded over the balance of power between the federal government and state governments.
John Adams, the second president of the U.S., was a Federalist, but that party collapsed in on itself fairly quickly, and the Democratic-Republicans won the next four elections.
Eventually, war hero Andrew Jackson — now a controversial figure in contemporary circles — splintered the Democratic-Republicans, and he and his supporters formed the Democrat Party that exists today. Anti-Jackson factions united and formed the Whig Party.
This is the first really important lesson to be had about the party system: parties often united to oppose policies or politicians and are usually comprised of different factions that otherwise would agree on very little within the political realm.
The reason this happens is because of the winner-take-all-system in the Electoral College. Once a candidate gains a majority of votes in a state, then that state typically gives all of its electoral votes to that candidate. As soon as a candidate reaches 270 of 538 votes (in the current Electoral College), they win the election.
Therefore, the Whigs united loosely behind candidates whom they weren’t totally fond of in order to oppose a candidate they particularly didn’t like.
Fast forward to the election of 1860, the Whig party had collapsed over the issue of slavery. Southern Whigs joined the Democrats to protect slavery, and Northern Democrats left the party as the big issue became something they either had no opinion or a negative opinion on.
This left the election wide open for a new third party — the Republican Party — to steal the election under their first presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, the man who had voiced abolitionist ideas prior to attract voters in the North.
Lincoln won the election without winning a single southern state. He was able to do this because most southern states divided their popular vote between two different Democratic candidates and an opposing third party. This allowed the Republicans to win the presidency with only 40 percent of the popular vote, but 59 percent of the electoral vote — a sizable margin in a general election.
This brings about another lesson: if a party wants to win in the two-party system, party unity behind a single candidate must be maintained. Both Democrats and Republicans learned these lessons and required them to prop up the system and their parties ever since.
So what is to be done in the current election? The answer is simple: Use your vote to challenge the two party system if you don’t feel represented by it.
If you actually support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton because you like them, vote for them. But if you are supporting one only or mainly to stop the other, I’d encourage you to instead challenge the system.
Starve the parties who gave you such bad options of your vote and teach them a new lesson.