Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why support the Green Party?

For the by-elections in Illinois, I am endorsing the Green Party ticket. (Right now, I expect to hear a collective *sigh* of apathy from my readers, who number perhaps in the high single digits and who probably don't depend on me to tell them how to vote.) Any endorsement of the Green Party, or any third party, comes up with some very commonsense and reasonable exceptions:
  1. Third parties have a notoriously hard time actually winning elections. This is true historically, even at the state and local levels. Even apparent examples of "successful" third parties are either not really that successful or not that "third": the Republicans, in the 1850s, might arguably be thought to have been a "third party" of sorts, but in actuality, the prior third party system (Whigs versus Democrats) was falling apart, and the new Republican party was taking on some of the trappings of the Whigs and Free Soil Democrats; the Progressive Party of Theodore Roosevelt was somewhat "successful" (TR placed second in electoral votes to Woodrow Wilson), but to the degree it enjoyed any success was due to that fact that it represented one wing of the Republican party that had broken off from the alleged "Old Guard"; the Populist Party, for a time, enjoyed some electoral success at the state level, but it, too, fell by the wayside.
  2. This is also true structurally: our "first past the post" system of voting for "single member districts" (basically: only one person can serve as representative for a geographically bound territory, and that person needs to get at least one more vote than her or his competitors) militates against a victory from someone who does not belong to one of the two parties.
  3. This is also true in terms of hardball politics. Frankly, third parties almost never have money or legal resources to deal with the inevitable challenges (more often than not, from the Democratic Party) to their right to be on the ballot.
  4. Third party campaigns usually hurt the electoral chances of the candidate who is most likely to represent the interests of those who vote for the third party. It is probably too trite to say, for example, that Nader voters in 2000 all would have voted for Al Gore if Nader hadn't been on the ticket (I, for one, would have probably voted for another third party, and I really do think some others might have voted for Bush), but it seems pretty clear that Green voters probably played the critical role in battleground states like Florida and that Gore would have been much more friendly to the types of policies espoused by the Greenites than Bush was on most issues.
Given these objections, why on earth would I support the Green Party? Here are a few reasons, and I confess that they do not answer all the above objections completely:
  1. At the state level, and especially at the local level (by which I mean, Cook County), the Greens have a marginally better chance at winning than they do at national-level elections. I stress that this chance is, indeed, only marginally better. But it is better.
  2. The stakes, at the local level, are not necessarily as stark as at the statewide and national levels. The Greens are running someone for Cook County President, and the Democrats, who dominate the board, are so corrupt, that it might be hard to distinguish much from the Republicans. (There is a danger that a tax-lowering Republican base might dismantle county health aid and other forms of public assistance, so I don't claim that the partisan differences mean nothing.)
  3. The Democratic party in Illinois, and especially in Chicago and Cook County, is so institutionalized and so unabashedly dictatorial that almost any change seems better. I even briefly considered supporting local Republicans, until I went to the GOP's Illinois website and found, on its opening page, a big advertisement against the "Obama/Pelosi Takeover of Healthcare." Now, there are very good reasons to oppose the new health insurance reform bill, but such rhetoric does nothing except to foster open discussion of the issues. (Not that the Democrats are any better; that's one of the reasons I do not wish to support them.)
Oh yeah, I also agree with much of the Green Party platform


James Hanley said...

Corrupt Democrats in Chicago? Wow, when did that happen? ;)

A couple of additional (real) thoughts.

1. A political scientist (whose name I always forget, but he's a bigger name than me) has proposed an "M+1" rule, suggesting that whatever the number of representatives from a district, the maximum number of viable political parties will be that number plus 1. It's a riff of Duverger's law, and one application is that in single-member districts there'll be at most two effective parties (there could be fewer, though).

2. Economists distinguish between "consumption value" and "investment value," and the idea can be applied to voting. If you vote Green because you think your vote will help them win, you're seeking investment value (and likely to take a loss on the investment, but then again, a single vote isn't a very large investment to lose). If you vote for them because you just like their platform, you're seeking consumption value.

We rational choice theorists would say that the low likelihood of your vote affecting the outcome makes voting third party for investment reasons irrational, but the absolute certainty of achieving consumption value means voting third party for consumption value purposes is rational. (That is, assuming you get that feeling of satisfaction from a) casting the vote, b) for a third party. If you don't, then it may be irrational to even bother to vote!)

For what it's worth, I was registered Green when I lived in California (before I saw the true libertarian path of enlightenment *grin*).

theolderepublicke said...

Mr. Hanley,

I've never heard of the M+1 rule before, but it does seem interesting and, historically, it seems to be born out well (even when third parties seem to have made headway in the past, they've often chosen, or were constrained to, resort to "fusion" politics with one of the main parties; at any rate, if any Greens got elected to Congress or the Senate, they would not have a large enough representation to make their own caucus and would have to join up with the GOP or the Dems in order to get committee assignments). I suppose that "number of representatives" must mean "number of representatives who stand for election at the same time"; otherwise, the election for US Senators would be more fertile ground for third parties.

I do confess that voting for a third party is for "consumption value." When it comes to voting in general, I have a hard time believing that my vote really matters, especially in large elections. I do think it's fun, however, and I like to follow the issues. Also, I guess there's some sentimental attachment to going to the polling place on election day.

Unlike you, I've not quite yet wended my way over to the libertarian camp. However, reading Positive Liberty and, to a lesser extent, Volokh Conspiracy, has given me a greater appreciation for libertarian arguments, especially when it comes to identifying limits on what government can do well. I suppose I used to naively believe that if I'd like to see something done, all that I had to do was to get the government to pass a law and the new Jerusalem would be knocking at my door.

Thanks for your comments!