A different look at the wasted vote theory


Every couple of years supporters of candidates who are not from the ruling duopoly are inundated with claims that their vote is “wasted.” The vast majority of people who perpetuate the so-called “wasted vote theory” believe that a vote for someone who finishes second in the race was not wasted, but a vote for any candidate outside of the top two is somehow a wasted vote.

I’m a big advocate of voting for the candidate with whom you most agree, and not allowing yourself to be caught up in the urge to vote for the lesser evil out of a fear of “wasting your vote.” However, let’s take another look at the facts and figure out if your vote actually matters.

A quick glance at the 2012 Presidential election shows Barack Obama with almost 5 million more votes nationally than Mitt Romney. Since those votes were more than the margin of victory, it could be argued that those votes for Obama were “wasted” as they did not directly help elect a candidate. However, since the President is not elected by direct popular vote, one needs to take a closer look at the votes to determine how many votes were “wasted” based on this broader definition. Since the Electors are determined on a state-by-state basis, one needs to look at those results to determine how many votes cast for the winning candidate in that state (or in the case of Maine & Nebraska, in the Congressional District) did not directly help a candidate win an Electoral Vote. Barack Obama easily won the popular vote in California, among other states, with over 3 million “extra” votes in California alone, and almost 2 million such votes in New York. Mitt Romney had a 1.2 million vote margin of victory in Texas. All-in-all 18.5 million votes cast for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney were not needed to secure an Electoral Vote.

In terms of raw votes, New Hampshire had the closest margin of victory at 39,643 votes, with fewer than 12,000 voters casting a ballot for someone other than a duopoly candidate. And Florida was the only state in 2012 in which more voters cast a vote for a minor party or independent candidate than the margin of victory; those 90,000 Florida voters no more wasted their vote than the 74,000 Obama voters who put Obama over the margin of victory. In terms of percentage of voters, 14.38% of those who voted for either Obama or Romney, essentially wasted their vote – something they oft accuse supporters of minor party and independent candidates of doing. None of this number-crunching takes into consideration the number of votes in Congressional or statewide races that did not help elect a candidate, or help a party obtain/retain ballot access.

None of this should be interpreted to mean your vote doesn’t count, obviously the votes are counted. This number-crunching means there is a pretty good chance that your vote will not be the vote that decides an election. With this in mind, if/when you walk into the voting booth on Tuesday I ask you to ask yourself this question: Are you casting a ballot for the candidates who best represent you, or are you voting for the lesser evil?