If Joe Biden loses, blame the Democrats, not third-party voters or non-voters

  • In what could be the most consequential election in modern history, there's a sentiment among liberals that a vote for a third party is a vote for Trump.
  • But if Biden loses, the Democratic establishment should hold the lion's share of the blame, as they've deliberately discarded the people they now shame.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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There are good reasons to vote for Joe Biden, as I recently argued, even for progressives who may not be impressed by the former vice president's policies or past positions. 

However, reasonable people can also argue that Biden has no real intention to follow through on some of his more ambitious proposals that are designed to try and win over the left-wing of the Democratic party that was unenthused by his nomination. These people can also believe that "orange man bad" isn't a compelling enough reason for them to cast their vote for someone they don't believe in.

As we get closer to the election, the stakes are becoming clearer. Get-out-the-vote efforts like LeBron James' "More Than A Vote" program are on the rise. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar teamed up with popular Twitch streamers to drive voter registration efforts, and political nonprofits like MoveOn have been big on promoting voter registration. The idea is that the better the voter turnout, the more likely it is that Biden wins.

This has resulted in the sentiment that people who lean left but vote for third-party candidates or those that choose not to vote at all, are effectively voting for Trump, and should bear the blame should Biden lose on Tuesday. It's a reasonable notion, but it is misguided.

Blame game

The shaming and blaming of third-party or non-voters would come as no surprise given that many liberals view votes cast for third-party candidates as instrumental to George Bush and Donald Trump's elections. 

The 2000 presidential election between Bush and Al Gore came down to Florida, which Bush won by a measly 537 votes. The third party candidate, Ralph Nader, received over 97,000 votes in the state, helping to cement a disdain for third parties among Democrats. If a fraction of Ralph Nader voters voted for Gore instead, the thinking goes that we could have avoided eight years of globally catastrophic policy. Similar thinking exists among conservatives who were angry at the splitting of votes by independent Ross Perot in 1992.

However, if Joe Biden loses, there will be plenty of more applicable people for the Democratic establishment to blame. Namely, themselves.

Since Biden clinched the Democratic nomination, he, his campaign, and the Democratic establishment, have been callously deriding the party's left, erasing them from the national conversation.

Besides AOC's dutiful nomination of Bernie Sanders during the Democratic National Convention, progressive politics were left by the curbside. Instead, Democrats featured a speech by John Kasich, the guy who, as governor of Ohio, passed some of the strictest anti-abortion legislation in the nation. 

The choice made it clear that Democrats would rather use their biggest stage to champion someone whose views go against their own than champion progressives. This is a clear effort to win over voters from the right, and it shows that these voters are being prioritized over the progressive ones in their own party.

According to Politico, the Biden campaign is currently vetting Republican figures (including, again, John Kasich) for potential cabinet positions. The Biden camp knows that considering a Republican for a cabinet position risks turning off some of the more progressive or left-leaning members of the electorate, but they believe it's worth that risk.

Given all of these facts, if Biden loses on Tuesday, it doesn't make sense to blame the loss on people — particularly progressives — who were discouraged from voting for him because of his actions and the actions of the Democratic Party in general. You cannot discard a group of voters before the election and then blame them for not voting for you afterwards. The Democrats can either appeal to Republicans or chastise the progressive electorate for considering other options, but they can't do both in good faith.

Progressive names for cabinet positions have floated around, too. Imagine a Treasury Secretary Elizabeth Warren or the most recent speculation of a Labor Secretary Bernie Sanders. Democrats would risk losing a senate seat for either of these to come to fruition, but it'd be an easy way for the disgruntled progressive voter to come on board before election day. A simple promise that Biden would include progressive voices in his cabinet would do the trick. Instead, we have Republican John Kasich at the top of the list.

Even former President Barack Obama has chimed in with his own version of blaming non-voters. In a speech on October 27, he said that voters "…can't be complacent. We were complacent last time. Folks got a little lazy. Folks took things for granted. And look what happened."

Let's take a closer look at why those voters might have gotten "a little lazy."

The electorate's burden

In 2016, 43% of eligible voters did not cast a ballot, nearly 100 million people. Many of them, according to FiveThirtyEight, are disillusioned from voting, and don't feel like either party's candidate can enact meaningful change. Democrats, instead of convincing these people that they're the better option over Republicans, would rather target people who already vote, even if they're Republicans or moderates. In a crunch, the strategy makes sense, but there's a difference between blaming non-voters who aren't going to vote anyway, and blaming non-voters who actively tried to participate, but were let down by their party. 

It's true that third party voters could have saved us from Bush and Trump, but at the end of the day, their votes weren't earned by either major party. That is a failure of campaigning, not a failure of the people who decided to vote for the party that best matched their interests — or that no party accurately reflected their interests. They are participating in our civic institutions just like any voter, and it feels misguided to shame them for the way they did so.

Think about it this way: in the two hugely consequential elections of 2000 and 2016, the third party vote was instrumental in deciding the victor, as well as, obviously, the tens of millions of people who didn't vote. That means that it is in the Democrats' best interest to target people who vote third party and who don't vote. If they fail to do that, why is that the electorate's fault?

Before you become upset at how someone decided to express their rights, ask yourself how your party could have better appealed to them. As I mentioned above, it's usually a pretty drastic oversight.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).

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