The Wasted Vote Fallacy

Republicans before the election worked to convince Libertarians that a vote for Gary Johnson (or any other third party) was a wasted vote -- that Libertarians needed to be voting against Obama and therefore for Republicans.  Some libertarians have argued that the only way to change the Republican Party is from within.  Libertarians need to join the party and then work to make the party less statist.

I thought this was a crock at the time and think so even more now.  Here is the key thought:  Republicans are not going to change their platform and their candidates and their positions to woo voters they are already getting.  After the election, no one in the Republican leadership was talking about what a mistake it was to run a big government Republican like Romney -- the ex-governor of Massachusetts for God sakes -- who authored the predecessor to Obamacare.  No one was wondering about Gary Johnson as a 2016 candidate.

What the GOP did do is panic at the shellacking they got among Hispanic voters.  The ink was not even dry on the ballots before Republican leadership was considering abandoning their anti-immigrant stance in order to win more Hispanic voters.  I am not sure that will get them Hispanic voters, but whether they are right or not, that is the conversation they were having.  They were asking, "How do we attract voters WE DID NOT GET" -- not, "how do we attract voters we are already getting".

The turn of the century Progressive Party (William Jennings Bryant, free silver, etc) never won a Presidential election but both the Republicans and Democrats co-opted many of their platform positions because they sought to attract voters they were losing to the Progressives.

I don't see how Libertarians can look at a party that has fielded John McCain (author of speech restrictions) and Mitt Romeny (author of the proto-Obamacare) as any sort of long-term home.  Heck, the Republicans more seriously considered Rick Santorum and Donald Trump than Gary Johnson or Ron Paul.  I respect what Mr. Paul has done in bringing libertarian issues to the debate, but as long as he keeps reliably delivering his voters to whatever lame statist candidate the party fields, the GOP is never going to seriously address libertarian concerns.


  1. Steve D:

    Good point!

  2. ErikTheRed:

    Ugh... this fallacy is so inane that even bringing it up again makes my head hurt. What really kills me is what whiny little liberal bitches Republicans have become: instead of taking responsibility for the mistakes of nominating two utterly crap candidates in a row, they blame all of the groups who did not get on board with them.Libertarians were not shy about saying that there was no way - no way in hell - that they would support Romney. Republicans nominated him anyway, and now they have the gall to go crying about not getting libertarian support.

  3. herdgadfly:

    I think it is time for an even broader discussion whereby conservatives, libertarians and TEA party folks would all abandon the Republican Party for a "Country Party" as envisioned by Angelo Codevilla. Taking down our statist Ruling Class and all accompanying bureaucratic institutions that have changed America is the only option remaining.

    Establishment Republicans have already proven to be part of the Ruling Class and no longer deserve our support. Until the broadly defined Country Party gets a voice in a decentralized government, things will only drift to more and more Marxism.

  4. Larry Sheldon:

    There is no credible evidence that the GOP ans RNC are going to change their ways no matter what.

    The simple fact is one of two people was going to win.

    The simple fact is there are several ways of casting votes, but the tally only shows the ones that were cast for the winner.

    All the votes that were cast for somebody else are not of any interest at all. As are the ones from people that stayed home.

  5. Larry Sheldon:

    The way to change the GOP involves going to meetings, electing committee members, BEING committee members.

    The national elections are about thirty kinds of way too late.

  6. Russ R.:

    Gary Johnson's total vote count amounted to less that the margin of difference between Obama and Romney. So even if Romney collected every single Johnson vote, he still would have lost.

    This wasn't only true at the national level, but for every single one of the 26 states (plus DC) that Obama won.

  7. herdgadfly:

    There are three Republican politicians, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and Bobby Jindal who seem to be trying to get out in front of the party with some new leadership. Rubio and Paul have new immigration policy proposals while Jindal wants no change in immigration. Instead he wants to go the populist route to convince forever Democrats that Republicans are not the party of big business, Somewhere, somehow, someone has to climb on top of this pile of you-know-what to find out what and who is causing the stench.

  8. Stan:

    I voted for Johnson, but remain a Republican. I doubt Libertopia will ever come, but forcing the GOP to put up more libertarian candidates and take more libertarian positions is better than perpetually getting 1% of the vote. If the Libertarian Party ever gets any serious potential, count me in. Until then I will work to change Republicans.

  9. AnInquirer:

    I am very sad. With 7 million fewer votes for Obama in 2012 thatn 2008, we should have been able to elect a Republican president. Warren, you are a brilliant individual, and your eocnomic analyses are typically immaculate. However, your political analysis here is abysmally wrong. Though a 3% margin loss is probably not a landslide, it is enough to eliminate any perceived mandate for Republicans to stand up to Obama. We now will get for decades a entrenched Supreme Court that endorses government coercion with little respect for individual responsibility and liberty. We will move farther and farther away from sanity in tax structure. We will adopt more European ideas that border on socialism. This election was a tragedy for those who valued historic American values. We would not have won with just the wasted votes for Gary Johnson, but those votes plus the Republicans that stayed home would have provided a foundation to keep fighting the good fight.

  10. BGThree:

    Ron Paul never endorsed Romney did he? I don't believe he endorsed Johnson either (and obviously not Obama). At best he kind of held his nose and said Mitt is a nice guy, but I don't think he "delivered his supporters" to Mitt.

  11. Andrew_M_Garland:

    The nature of the state
    Cafe Hayek
    === ===
    [edited]  There is a notion that the state is a legitimate agency deserving respect; that despite its flaws, it generally promotes or tries to promote the welfare of its citizens. This is increasingly difficult to understand, much less to accept.

    The late Mancur Olson had a far more realistic view: The state is a stationary bandit. Ordinary people might have to tolerate this, but they should understand that dealing with the state is dealing with organized thuggery. Obey the state because it can unleash its guns and prisons on you. But, please don’t pretend that the state’s commands are issued with your best interests in mind.
    === ===

    The fundamental problem with politics is that it is driven by incentives, like all other activities. Political parties are organized to collect the spoils of government. They benefit from implementing good policy only to the extent that they can confiscate more of the prosperity of the citizens.

    Their fight for dominance is not primarily driven by greater prosperity for the average citizen, and so that prosperity will often suffer from the fight.

    Possibly our populace will reject nanny government after the general economic collapse which is coming. But, the example of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930's, and of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela doesn't cheer me.

  12. Dan Sherman:

    Libertarians will not get a serious chance at fielding a candidate until their IDEALS are appealing to anyone but a small sliver of short sighted, neo-anarchist. Meanwhile, as long as you withhold your vote from the best of two candidates (even if that difference is as thin as a libertarian's skin), it will HELP THE COUNTRY move in a direction that is closer to a libertarian's world view than electing a Dem. Politics is a zero sum game. It cannot be played any other way.

    Convince us (conservatives) that your ideals are sound and you can move us in that direction. Holding your vote for someone that has absolutely no chance of winning just to spite those that are closer to you than further from you, ideologically, is just childish. And actually harms our country in the process.

  13. LarryGross:

    good comments! Libertarians are a minority right now - that's undeniable fact. All of this talk about how Libertarians might or not ally themselves with the GOP is irrelevant because the GOP does not dance the full

    Libertarian dance and likely never will. Libertarianism is most prevalent in 3rd world countries with dictators or weak govts not representative elective governments.

    Most people want the govt. Ask the folks in New Jersey and New York - no matter how frustrated they are with the govt... they know the govt is a substantial help to recovery.

    Americans like Libertarian principles - to a point. They do not like and will not subscribe to the Full Monty.

    For that matter, not even many of the folks who SAY they want a Libertarian country would really want it once they saw it as I'm convinced they take many, many things for granted. They just want THEIR brand of Libertarianism just like others don't like particular regulations but people are not unanimous in what they do not like - they each have their own favorites.

    This country is pro-church and pro-family and at it's soul it does NOT have a libertarian heart and never will.

    The most, best Libertarian countries on the earth are - 3rd world usually with a dictator or weak leader and people have weak rights. I see no industrialized nations that are Libertarian. That's not an accident.

  14. obloodyhell:

    }}} This election was a tragedy for those who valued historic American values. We would not have won with just the wasted votes for Gary Johnson, but those votes plus the Republicans that stayed home would have provided a foundation to keep fighting the good fight.

    Here here!!

    You want more libertarians, then do it at the state level and at the Congressional level. Handing over the Presidency guaranteed that:
    a) The SCotUS will almost certainly move farther left
    b) ObamaCare will NOT be repealed
    c) Profligate spending will continue to reign in the Federal government
    d) No effort to reform entitlements will occur.

    NONE of those is going to increase libertarian principles in government in the least.

    If you're too %#^&^$@@ retarded to grasp that was the outcome of this election, then you're too stupid to vote.

  15. obloodyhell:

    H/T: Neo-neocon

    How Conservatives Can Win in Blue-State America: Lessons from South Africa's Opposition

  16. obloodyhell:

    True, Russ, but there were a substantial number of stay-at-homes with the same raison d'etre... who didn't like what the Dems stood for but didn't think the GOP was strongly enough in their favor, either... and hence made SURE the nation would drift much farther from their own positions. Hence their actions were the most retarded ephwit stance possible. I respect Obama voters voting for their Ophones more than I do these imbeciles.

  17. NeoWayland:

    Of course I agree.

    You would not believe the flak I took in 2007 & 2008 when I kept telling people that John McCain should be tried for high treason because of that idiotic law.

    What part of "Congress shall make no law…" do people not understand?

  18. Zachriel:

    Coyote Blog</b: The Wasted Vote Fallacy

    It's called strategic voting. In battleground states, you should vote for the best among those that have a chance of winning. In non-battleground states, you should vote to build your third-party option.

  19. will:

    I did not vote last week, after voting for Republicans in 11 presidential elections.It took me that long to recognize that what they said was not what they did. It feels better than I would have guessed.

    Regarding Romney as a better choice, I never heard him, the party, or any political "expert" clearly delineate specific differences. Not enough, anyway, to pay for the gas to get to the polls.

    Regarding Coyote's comment on Ron Paul delivering votes to the party, he is wrong, or I misunderstood. His willingness to take the abuse he took to deliver his message via the debates, etc. seems heroic to me. As for G Johnson and the LP, while they may be good guys, were they on network or cable TV even 5% of the time Dr. Paul got?

    Regarding obloodyhell's comment on the need for Republican appointees to SCOTUS, we've heard that argument ad nauseum. I can only ask: are you referring to the same institution that decided Roe v Wade with 5 of the 7 deciding votes by Republican appointees? Or the institution with the Federalist Society member, Bush- nominated Chief Justice deciding for Obamacare.

    I voted for Nixon in 1968. He gave us wage and price controls and closed the gold window, and said "we are all Keynsians now." I was enamored with Reagan and he ran up the debt to the point that we got used to it. I believed Bush II about a "humble foreign policy." Call me a slow learner.

  20. HenryBowman419:

    The Republicans are too stupid to change their platform.

    That said, wooing Hispanic voters by permitting amnesty for the many illegals here would simply further erode the chances of electing a Republican, for the simple reason that the "new" voters will vote Democrat by a roughly 2:1 margin, and existing Hispanic voters won't change their voting preferences based upon such obviously pandering tactics.

    The Democrats win by promising money (i.e., government checks) to people. This tactic works to get them elected, and it will continue working until they run out of other people's money.

  21. Che is dead:

    The Republican party does not have an "anti-immigrant stance". The U.S. takes in more LEGAL immigrants than almost all of the rest of the countries of the world COMBINED, and no Republican campaigned against LEGAL immigration.

    So, everytime that you write that the Republican party is "anti-immgrant", you're a liar.

    The Republican party has a rule-of-law stance. There are millions of people across the world who are currently involved in the process of becoming LEGAL citizens of the U.S., why should their efforts be reduced to farce by granting those who have broken our laws citizenship?

    Remind us all again, Warren, what percent of the Hispanic vote did the "Libertarian Party" get. I thought so.

    I guess that it's time for you nativist morons to abandon whatever principles you have and embrace the welfare state.

    No, you say?

  22. Brotio:

    You have an odd definition of libertarianism if you equate dictators and suppression of individual liberty with libertarianism's belief in individual sovereignty.

    I see no nation on earth that is libertarian. That's not an accident. Governments would not have it any other way.

  23. MingoV:

    Libertarian support would not have mattered in this election. In all the states Romney lost, adding Gary Johnson's votes to Romney's votes would not have delivered a single victory. The reason Romney lost was that he was so unappealing that millions of registered Republicans didn't vote.

  24. LarryGross:

    no.. a pragmatic one... because libertarians are a minority there is no way to get an elected govt to willingly choose Libertarian government. the only way to make that happen woulld be to imposed on the majority that does not want it.

    otherwise... people choose non-Libertarian governance.

  25. DreamLiner:

    Right - the "wasted vote" IS a fallacy. It was actually a vote for the Dems - in at least 9 races -
    So, definitely not wasted but offered to the democrats.

    Look, I am not saying that you shouldn't vote for whoever you want, or not vote at all if you desire so. Ii IS your right. However, please spare the convoluted explanations/excuses.

    I'll put it this way - the entire country had to decide to buy a car. The Democrats want a Yugo, the Republicans want a BMW, the Libertarians want a Lamborghini. So, at the end we got a Yugo. In at least 9 races, the choice would have been the Beemer if Libertarians wouldn't have stuck to their Lamborghini.

    Libertarians generally have a very incisive and analytical mind. However, what never ceases to amaze me is that when political campaigns come in the picture that incisive and analytical thinking is thrown out of the window. Using the free market approach. In this and in all other political campaigns you've presented a product that, well, the market rejects. In the free market world, if a candidate were the "product" then the Libertarian product has one of these problems:
    - Your product is good but people don't understand the value
    - Your product is bad
    - A combination of the two above
    So, my question is, what are you going to do about it. Doing the same thing over and over and over? Because, that's kind of, well, doesn't make sense. Why?

    Well, political campaigns are another type of market. Using the same market rules, bottom line, you have a losing product. So my question in that regard is, using the same free market logic.
    - are you going to try to sell the same losing product over and over and over without thinking on what you need to change to make it a winner?
    - are you thinkin
    which I always admire the libertarian's strength in logic and argument however, it never ceases to amaze me that that logic goes up in smoke if we talk about political campaigns. Look. political campaigns are another market with its own set of rules. Your product either wins or loses - wholesale. Somehow, the fact that politics is just another market, where your product either is a winnerwith it's own rules of competition.

  26. DreamLiner:

    In case someone is misinterpreting this as me saying that the Libertarians were the reason why the Republicans got walloped this round, that's not the case at all. There were plenty of reasons for the losses. In some particular races though, those votes _could_ have made a difference but didn't.....

  27. DreamLiner:

    Aaarghhh... half edited notes ended up at the bottom without me removing them. Sorry for that. The post was supposed to end at "Why?"

  28. JustSomeGuy:

    I am weary of the wasted vote speech. I am particularly weary when I'm called childish or f'n stupid because I didn't cast my vote in favor of your candidate. It's so charming /sarc when folks tell me I'm withholding my vote to spite candidates who are closer to my philosophy than not. In what way are they closer? In what way do they align with anything I believe? Do you mean in their pandering rhetoric? Rhetoric which they abandon without concern? The only time I care what comes out of a politician's mouth is when he stands to say "yea" or "nay" when the roll is called. All else is tainted air.

    So, no, my vote was not wasted. I will not cast a vote to legitimize a party that disdains those philosophies I hold to be essential. I will not cast a vote so I can feel righteous about picking a side. I don't give a damn whether my vote cost Romney an election, because I did not want that man in office. No more than I wanted Obama to retain his position.

    I did not go to the polls to vote for a "winner," I went to vote for a representative. Reps/Dems do not represent me, and they don't get my vote.