Connor P. Mullin
At this point in time, we know for certain the 2016 general election will pit Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump against each other for the presidency, and if that idea fills you with complete disgust, you’re hardly alone. Both of these major party candidates are extremely unpopular (albeit Trump more than Clinton); by some surveys, the most disliked potential presidents ever. And yet, this election may not quite be as much of a disaster as it might seem. Rather, 2016 might well mark the beginning of a much healthier American democracy, because arguably for the first time in a century (if not longer) we will have a viable four-candidate election, in which Clinton and Trump are joined by Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian contender Gary Johnson.
Essentially, this four-candidate race will occur precisely because Clinton and Trump will ensure that Stein and Johnson have their respective chances of being more than also-rans. Why will this happen? In Stein’s case, recall that, to win the Democratic Party’s nomination, Clinton had to defeat the extremely popular (and liked) Bernie Sanders. Many former Sanders supporters are thusly much less willing to support Clinton than they might otherwise be, and so many might ‘defect’ to Stein. Undoubtedly, some – notably those who rallied under the ‘Bernie or Bust’ slogan – will make this defection out of simple spite for Clinton, but more are likely to simply note that Stein is, overall, more in line with their particular ideological views than Clinton is. With this being the case, it will be especially interesting to see how far some of these newly-minted Stein supporters will go in support of the Green Party. While most will merely be temporarily bucking their party and will return to the Democratic Party in future elections, it is quite possible that a good number will change their registration, thus boosting the Green Party and potentially making it at least somewhat viable in future elections.
Gary Johnson will benefit from this type of dislike-driven party realignment even more than Stein, for while Clinton has been polarizing within the Democratic Party, Trump has been far more so for the Republicans. The many and varied ‘Never Trump’ movements led by such major Republican players as former presidential candidate Mitt Romney demonstrate this, as do the countless other exhibitions of Republican disgust with Trump. Clearly a candidate is incredibly unpopular when noteworthy politicians – such as House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – nominally (though often unwillingly) give their endorsements to Trump, only to almost immediately attempt to downplay this support. These movements never had a real chance at preventing Trump from becoming the Republican Party’s nominee for the general election, but they will still heavily benefit Gary Johnson, simply because they also reflect the opinions of many ordinary Republican voters. Thus, like Stein for anti-Clinton Democrats, Johnson will be recognized as providing this type of disaffected Republican with a much more palatable candidate who also likely aligns more closely with their own ideological views. The result, naturally, will be a greatly increased showing for the Libertarian Party in 2016, and arguably in future elections as well – as with Democrats for the Green Party, some defecting Republicans are likely to permanently realign themselves to the Libertarians.
Undoubtedly, party officials for both the Democrats and the Republicans will do their best to block this defecting to third-parties, breaking out the standard suggestions that voting for Stein as a Democrat or Johnson as a Republican will be ‘throwing votes away’ and so guaranteed to give victory to the opposing party. This will equally undoubtedly have some effect, but the sheer distaste with which Clinton and Trump are viewed will mean that the defections to these third parties will be too great for these sorts of efforts to stem. Thus, apart from the results noted above in terms of giving the Green and Libertarian Parties more consistent future support, it is very likely that, for the first time since 1968, a third party candidate may carry a state’s Electoral College votes. This would be a remarkable occurrence, and one that would give an even greater boost to any party that managed to do so. Unlike in 1968, however, this is unlikely to be isolated to just one state. It would definitely not be out of the realm of possibility for New Hampshire to vote for Johnson, or Vermont or Rhode Island to go to Stein. Stein is less likely to win states outside of the northeast, but Johnson certainly has a good chance. Portions of the Deep South, with heavy voting blocs of evangelical Christians, are simultaneously heavily conservative and opposed to Trump, and so are quite possible to vote Libertarian. The mountain west would be even better ground for Johnson; Montana and Wyoming would both be conceivable states for him to capture, and the low regard many residents of Utah hold Trump in could even result in an out-of-left-field win in that state.
No matter the ultimate electoral outcome, the sheer unpopularity of Clinton and Trump essentially guarantee that the U.S. will, at long last, have a four-candidate election. Equally finally, despite the widespread feelings of disgust and general apathy towards the major-party candidates and the election, it may well end up that 2016 becomes the year the American political landscape begins to diversify. Thus, no matter how distasteful the impending Clinton-Trump match-up may be, in the long run it is likely to prove beneficial to the nation as a whole.
Connor Mullen is a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He shares his story as part of the Emerging Voices series. Emerging Voices invites Jewish writers between the ages of 13 and 25 to share their thoughts and opinions about any topic they choose. If you are interested in writing for this series, please email the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emerging Voices is supported by the Joanie Jacobson Jewish Cultural Arts Fund at the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation.