Vote the LOTE?

by Dr. Mike Munger
Duke Professor of Political Science, former LPNC Governor Candidate, and current LPNC Candidate

Reprinted from Fusion

I am a Libertarian. Capital "L," member of the Party, frequent candidate, activist, and contributor of campaign funds.

Some of my economist friends mock voting, since "it doesn’t matter." Another topic, for another time; let's suppose we agree that I am going to vote. There is still a question: for whom? Many folks feel strongly that I should "vote the LOTE."

LOTE is "the lesser of two evils." In an election between an awful candidate, and a once-in-a generation, apocalyptically terrible candidate, one should vote for the candidate who is merely awful. Anthony Downs called this the "net candidate differential," and thought it was a key to explaining election turnout and vote decisions.

I disagree. It seems to me that if you vote for the lesser of two evils, you are endorsing evil. The cliché answer is always that "this election is the most important of our lifetime!" Sure, because you sheep keep voting for evil. I understand that my binary "evil/not evil" is not very helpful, when there are degrees of evil. But we have greater moral obligations than simply passively accepting whatever garbage the electoral system serves up.

Look: We "live in a two-party system" because of First Past the Post voting, and Duverger's Law. I put that in quotes because, despite teaching political science at universities for 40 years I’m often told that we "live in a two-party system," as if that has some moral significance. I understand that if you have never studied any formal political science—perhaps you are an economist, but you have "done a lot of reading on Reddit" - that this argument feels persuasive to you.

We do not have a two-party system. What we have is a system that is likely to have two effective parties, in any given election, because people don’t want to "waste their vote" on a candidate who has little chance of winning. But there is a world of difference between the following two situations:

  1. After surviving strong competition, from free entry, the two best and most representative parties contest elections, and most people vote for the candidates who run under those two-party banners; and after finding contested elections, with new points of view and candidates who criticize the status quo, to be inconvenient, lazy intellectuals simply dictate that only two parties are allowed to run. That is, voters are free to vote for the candidate of their choice, but we will tell them what their choices are.
  2. The second situation represents the current U.S. system. Only the two remarkably corrupt state-sponsored parties are allowed to participate. Neither of them could survive actual competition, and neither of them is capable of advancing a candidate that would have a chance of beating a roadkill possum if elections were actually open.

In January, Gallup released a poll on Presidential preferences that was, frankly, remarkable. To make sure I won't be accused of misrepresenting, here is the money quote describing the findings: "Less than a third of Americans say they would be willing to vote for someone nominated by their party who is over the age of 80 or has been charged with a felony or convicted of a felony by a jury."

That's great news, because it means that neither party can win a majority in November! Neither of these two corrupt clowns can win!

Not so fast, Chester. Lazy intellectuals on both the left and the right find actually persuading people to be tedious, and frankly beneath their august persons. We’ll simply have "rules" that limit the allowable votes to two parties. I understand that these intellectual economists and other scholars, who have no understanding of political institutions, think that they own my vote. Unfair? They accuse my party, the Libertarians, of "stealing" votes from their favored candidates (the superannuated drug warrior and the unrepentant felon, the very people that Gallup found people don't want to vote for, remember!). Votes don’t belong to voters, they belong to parties! Who knew?

That's nonsense, of course. The truth is that the very fact people are willing to vote for Chase Oliver, the Libertarian nominee for President, means that they are dissatisfied with the "take it or leave it!" tactics of the state-sponsored duopoly. The corruption of the state-sponsored machines is so grotesque that I no longer see any important difference between them. Sure, the particular catastrophe that will ensue is different if Biden wins, compared to if Trump wins, but both outcomes are catastrophes.

But suppose you don’t buy my claim that the two candidates represent different, but equally calamitous, outcomes. Suppose you think one candidate is much, much worse than the other. For example, my friends on the right, even people who until recently pretended to value liberty, tell me is that Joe Biden is an existential threat, and that I (and my Libertarian allies) "must" vote for Trump.

I have two responses: First, my vote will not determine the outcome. If you want my "emergency" vote, you’ll need to provide a candidate who sucks less.

Second, it is possible that Libertarian votes as a group will determine the outcome (I certainly hope so!). Early polling shows that third party candidates will take three times as many votes from Biden than from Trump. I'm not a Trump fan, but I’m okay with Oliver causing Trump to win, because if the Democrats want my "emergency" vote they will need to suck less, also. But the point is that having a Libertarian candidate, and having Chase actively campaign, in many states, may end up helping Trump.

Two-thirds of Americans said they didn’t want to vote for a dotard or a convict. Telling me I have to vote for one of those debauched caitiffs doesn’t pass the laugh test. It’s my vote, my only precious tool for protesting this disastrous forced choice.

Mike Munger is a Professor of Political Science, and Director of the PPE Certificate Program, at Duke University. Munger's most recent book, The Sharing Economy, was published in 2021 by the Institute for Economic Affairs.

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