Some Republicans (and some Sanders Democrats) who can’t stand voting for Trump OR Clinton are thinking of voting for a third party. That’s not a good option. In fact, it is a BIG mistake. Here is why.
If you vote for a third party candidate either Gary Johnson in the Libertarian Party or Jill Stein of the Green Party, then you are actually VOTING FOR the Democratic or Republican Party candidate you like the LEAST. Let’s say you are a Republican, but you really don’t like Trump and you can’t see yourself voting for him. You can’t imagine a man with his temperament in the White House making life or death decisions. You don’t like Hillary Clinton either, so you decide to vote for Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. It is the same as not voting. You end up helping Trump, the major party candidate you like the least. Here is why.
We don’t elect our President by popular vote. We elect him or her (preferably her) through the Electoral College. There are 538 Electoral Votes. Each state and the District of Columbia are assigned electoral votes based upon population. For example, California has 55 electoral votes and Delaware has just three. To win the Presidency, a candidate must receive a minimum of 270 electoral votes. Forty-eight states plus DC are “winner-take-all” states. The candidate with the most votes wins ALL of the state’s electoral votes. Nebraska and Maine award electoral votes largely by Congressional District.
The Electoral College makes it almost impossible for any third party candidate to win a presidential election. Why? Ballot access.
You can’t win an election if you can’t get on the ballot so people can vote for you. And, it is difficult for third parties to get their candidate’s name on the ballot in enough states to win. For example, in 2016 the Green Party is on the ballot in only 23 states with 324 electoral votes. http://www.gp.org/ballotaccess The Libertarian Party is in better shape. It is on the ballot in 36 States and DC with 373 electoral votes. https://www.lp.org/2016-presidential-ballot-access-map See electoral votes by state here: http://www.270towin.com
Here comes the BIG problem for third parties and their candidates.
Take the Green Party. Out of 538 electoral votes, at maximum it can only win 324. It is only on the ballot in 36 states with 324 electoral votes, as I just said. The Green Party needs 270 votes to win. It can only spare 54 (324-270= 54). If it loses California’s 55 electoral votes, it can’t win even if it takes every other state where it is on the ballot. If it wins California, but loses Texas (38 electoral votes) and Illinois (20 electoral votes) or New York (29 electoral votes), it can’t win. In short, since the Green Party is not on the ballot in all 50 states, it has to win just about every state where it IS on the ballot, particularly the big states which are all “winner-take-all” states. That’s not totally impossible but you and I probably have a better chance of winning the lottery.
The Libertarian Party is in a little better shape. As I said, it is on the ballot in 36 states with 373 electoral votes. It can afford to lose a maximum of 103 electoral votes (373-270= 103). It it loses California (55 EV), Texas (38 EV) and Florida (29 EV), it can’t win. If it wins Florida, it only has 10 votes to spare. Lose Wisconsin, it has no chance. Lose MO, no chance. Lose TN, no chance. Lose AZ, no chance. Again, the Libertarian Party, like the Green Party, has to win just about every state where it is on the ballot in order to have a chance of winning the election. That’s not going to happen. It’s like a person winning the lottery and 99.999% of people never, ever win the lottery even a little lottery.,
Face it. The U.S. electoral system IS rigged. It’s rigged to make it very difficult for a third party to get on the ballot in all 50 states. It’s rigged in most states to award all of the electoral votes to the party with the most votes, thereby setting a very high hurdle for third parties.
Bottom Line: If you cast your vote for a party other than the Democratic Party (Hillary Clinton) or the Republican Party (Donald Trump), you might as well NOT vote. And, like NOT voting, casting your ballot for a third party candidate, HELPS the major party candidate you like the LEAST. How? Let’s say, you don’t like Hillary but you really hate Trump. If you don’t vote or vote for a third party candidate instead of voting for Hillary, then you hurt Hillary’s chances of winning (she gets one less vote) and you help Trump, the candidate you dislike the most.
If you don’t like either major party candidate, your best strategy is to vote for the major party candidate you DISLIKE the least.
You may not like it, but it is the truth. That’s the way the American electoral system works.
By the way. I told my Political Science class at a small Georgia college about the realities of the Electoral College and third party candidates in 1968 when George Wallace was running as a third party candidate for President on the American Independent Party ticket. Some of my students who were Wallace fans complained to the administration and I got fired. It was okay. I went back to the University of Georgia and got my Ph.D. Wallace won five southern states which led to Republican’s adopting the racist “Southern Strategy” they have used since the time of Nixon. But, that’s another story. See here for more on the 1968 race: http://umich.edu/~lawrace/votetour10.htm