Say No to the Protest Vote

Thoughts on the Political Style of the United States

As you might know, I am a Quebecois progressive living in the United States. It goes without saying that being a (1) left-progressive (2) from the renowned progressive province (3) of the great progressive country of the North, places me an unusual position here. I do not have the luxury of imagining that the politicians present on the ballot might be expected to represent my views.

To add, I am transparently puzzled how so often folks have that expectation.

How can a citizen with richly multidimensional opinions that are deeply informed by careful study expect to find their view represented directly in any binary election?

It is a mathematical impossibility. There are, after all, more than two such citizen, each one with vastly different opinion contour, and each cannot all be mapped one-to-one to the only two outcomes being wrestled over in the campaign: T or C. Via pigeonhole principle, QED.

I also puzzle on why one would expect the politicians present in the binary election to be broadly sympathetic to their cause. Beyond the sheer mathematical difficulty — there are much more than two causes, and they are always at least implicitly in opposition, struggling for the same resources — isn’t it the very definition of progressive politics, that you start under a boot and struggle to get out? Isn’t it the case that the affranchisement of a gradually greater people: non-land owners, black, women, and so forth, represent a gradual progress towards a less widely unrepresentative representation?

Then, as activist equipped with a confident diagnosis of the distance between our ideals and the options in a binary ballot, how one should act?

Option #1, Not voting: This lands you in a database of non-voters. This is then interpreted by the statistician team of all people in political office as a “This person’s opinions do not matter to us.” Are you 20–30 years old? That’s a 50% participation rate, thus you do not matter. 60–70 years old? 75% participation rates, let’s create a bold new policy to cover free medicine. And so forth.

The simple fact that politician offices hire statistical teams mean that by dropping a blank ballot, the majority of the political power available to you on election day is already accomplished. Marking a candidate only adds.

Option #2, Voting for a candidate of probabilistically vanishingly small odds: Over time, this could compound into constructing a greater visibility and impact for the group. I note, for instance, the inspiring step-by-step, election-by-election roads that the Pirate Party traveled. But absent of a strategy for gradual amplification, and especially if the “protest vote” never gets reported by any press as anything of significance and culturally shifting, then that’s a failed protest.

Option #3, Stay out of electoral politics: which can by useful in order to be credible as a non-partisan group when protesting.

Option #4, Chose a single most important issue: and campaign for the candidate closer to the right answer on that issue, in the style of

Option #5, Campaign now in order to protest later: Namely, campaign for the candidate that makes the more pliable political opponent, who will be most bendable through protest and activism.

Given these choices (since this is how I decide to parcel my options), I find #4 and #5 really unambiguous. Pertaining to #4: On global warming, Trump placed Myron Ebell, a professional climate disinformer, to his EPA transition team. In contrast, Clinton was moved towards much bolder campaign commitments by the Bernie wave and the organizations behind it. Pertaining to #5: Under Trump, I will fear for the safety of all my activists friend on the front lines, since his campaign and temperament is one of legal, illegal, and/or violent and vicious retribution to all slights, real or imagined. Under Clinton, the effectiveness of protests will continue to be largely a function our ability of dream big and organize well.

So, I encourage you to say no to the protest vote, since it will be interpreted as nothing but political laziness, and instead help drive like-minded folks to the polls in tipping-point regions.

(originally posted on Medium)