Voting Green: A 2020 Election Postmortem
Among the world’s liberal democracies, the United States is the stark exception — rather than the rule — when it comes to Green Party performance. As a consequence of our distinct electoral system, the Green Party has never been taken very seriously as a contender (except when accused of spoiling elections) nor been expected to be a viable presence in any national election. But considering its progressive, eco-centered policy slate and relevance to our modern struggle against climate change, should we be so quick to dismiss the Green Party?
Art by Anusha Goswami
Policies for a Greener Tomorrow
Since its establishment in 2001, the contemporary Green Party has been guided by four broad pillars — peace, ecology, social justice, and democracy — that ultimately drive its progressive policy slate. Seeing itself as a movement away from the tradition of corporate-dominated politics, the party promotes a leftist, grassroots platform that is itself reminiscent of a more eco-conscious approach to social democracy.
Unsurprisingly, the Green Party of the United States was the first to champion the vision for a ‘Green New Deal’ (GND), first in 2010 but most prominently in 2016 during the presidential campaign of Dr. Jill Stein. Unlike the recent effort by Senator Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Stein’s proposal put forth a more aggresive set of policies — chiefly a carbon tax, a shift to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2030, and a total phase-out of fossil fuels and nuclear power — all aimed at addressing climate change and reinvigorating the economy.
The Party’s co-founder and 2020 presidential candidate, Howie Hawkins, was himself the first to run on the prospect of a GND during the 2010 New York gubernatorial election. His platform in the latest election included a more refined ‘Ecosocialist Green New Deal’ that echoes that of Stein’s — albeit with a greater economic focus — along with a continued commitment to the Party’s liberal stances on social and economic issues.
Spoiler Theory and the 2016 and 2020 Presidential Elections
The first episode of American Horror Story’s post-election-themed seventh season sees its liberal protagonist being chastised for voting green in Michigan’s alarmingly close presidential election, in which the party’s candidate Jill Stein received 51,463 votes and Donald Trump was ultimately delivered the state by a margin of 10,704. Beyond this attitude of the “wasted” third-party vote being dramaticized for television, it is a sentiment that is employed in reality far too often — and one that was reflected again in this year’s race for the White House.
The idea of a “wasted” vote is tied to the broader concept of spoiler theory, which posits that third-party candidates impede the success of other candidates while having no chance of winning themselves. Popularly attributed to fellow Green candidate Ralph Nader following Al Gore’s 2000 loss, Stein in 2016 was inevitably painted as the latest “spoiler” for a Democratic victory, with pundits suggesting that the allocation of Green Party votes in three critical battleground states — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — would have been enough to propel Clinton to the presidency. And from the results of this year’s election, it appears that the outcome of 2016 was still fresh in the minds of many Americans who casted their ballots for our next president.
As seen in vote shares, those that might have been inclined to vote — either out of protest or legitimate support — for the Green Party’s Hawkins/Walker ticket either shied away or were completely obstructed from doing so. In the aforementioned states, the Green Party secured slightly less than fourteen-thousand votes (compared to 132,476 in 2016) owing to a fatal combination of low support in Michigan and denial of ballot access for the party in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Additionally, projections correctly predicted less of a third-party impact in this year’s election cycle, with both mainstream candidates displaying a learned mindfulness of third parties and a markedly lesser likelihood of protest votes being cast against Joe Biden.
Both historically and in 2020, the Green Party has been held to a different standard than other third parties because of its unmatched potential to siphon liberal voters from the Democratic Party. All things considered, is spoiler theory a valid reason to avoid voting Green?
In my opinion, no. November’s election was dominated by an overwhelming desire by liberal voters to remove Trump from office, making it an exceptional year that demanded an adherence to the two-party system. Moving forward, however, Americans should not be dissuaded from voting Green in fears of “spoiling” an election or “wasting” their vote. Rather than faulting Green voters for their right to cast a ballot for the party that best represents their interests, we should demand that Democratic candidates make a conscious effort towards more ecologically-sustainable and socially-progressive policies. And regardless of if they do, a third-party vote — irrespective of the reasoning behind it — will always be just as valid as a Democratic or Republican one.
The Future of the Green Party
Fundamental changes to the structure of American democracy are necessary if the Green Party of the United States is ever to achieve the same levels of representation and impact as its counterparts around the world. As seen in other liberal democracies like Canada and Germany, Green Parties — when afforded the opportunity — are more than capable of winning seats and leveraging important concessions in environmental policy.
The Green Party is far too familiar with this failure of electoral politics, and has accordingly included a shift to ranked-choice voting (RCV) among its policy slate for decades. Along with addressing the enduring discrepancy between the Electoral College and popular vote, the introduction of a RCV system also remedies the aforementioned spoiler theory and relieves the American voter of their purported onus to elect “the lesser of two evils” in each presidential cycle. Without electoral reform, the Green Party will be mostly limited to its current role of holding the major parties accountable via the passive signalling of voter preferences. As we continue to navigate our modern climate crisis, it’s quite clear that Americans and the Earth deserve much better.