The Spoiler Fallacy

Once every two years or so, someone inevitably complains about my support for “third party” candidates (Shawnee Green Party, Illinois Green Party, and Green Party of the United States). Most if not all of these complaints focus on the so-called “spoiler effect“. Rather than rehashing the same arguments multiple times with multiple people, I’ve decided to write this post.

The so-called “spoiler effect” is the idea that third-party and independent candidates “spoil” elections by splitting like-minded voters between two or more similar candidates. Other people have written at length about this topic, but here’s my two cents.

I refer to this idea as the “spoiler fallacy”. Why? Because it’s a fallacy, an example of faulty reasoning. The premises are false and the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

First, let me debunk two painfully common myths:

  1. Nader did not cost Gore the 2000 election. You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Ralph Nader did not cost Al Gore the 2000 election. Gore won the popular vote and would have won Florida in the event of a recount, in spite of election tampering. Also, even if you set aside the Supreme Court decision and election tampering, there are other candidates who cost Gore more votes than Nader in Florida. Perhaps most notably, 12% of Florida Democrats voted for Bush.
  2. Third-party candidates don’t “steal” from similar candidates. In fact, there is some evidence that they hurt the most dissimilar candidate, not the most similar one. This may be a result of shifting the discourse and convincing some people that the dissimilar candidate is too extreme or that the “moderate” two-party candidate is not so bad after all.

Having said that, let’s suppose that you still think it’s “practical” and “strategic” to vote for one of the two most popular candidates. If this is your response, I have a simple question for you.

What is your goal?

Most people who advocate voting based on the spoiler fallacy aren’t actually thinking strategically. They’re thinkinging tactically — what tactics can I use to make sure that someone who I voted for gets into office — but they’re not thinking strategically. They’re not thinking in terms of goals and values, the foundation of all strategic thinking.

The simple fact of the matter is that neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party shares my goals and values. Neither is demonstrating a strong commitment to taking action on anthropogenic global warming. Neither is demonstrating a strong commitment to stopping fracking. Neither is demonstrating a strong commitment to stopping drone strikes, wars of aggression, and other harmful intrusions into the policies and lands of other nations. Neither is demonstrating a strong commitment to the rights and opportunities of workers, including but not limited to a living wage and a serious green jobs program. Neither is demonstrating a strong commitment to ending our inherently racist and classist immigration policies. Neither is taking action to implement voting reforms such as instant runoff voting or (gasp!) more direct voting on public policy by the general public.

I will admit that there are some issue in which one party sometimes takes a stance that I agree with when it is convenient to do so. Some individual candidates will give lip service to one or more of the aforementioned goals, and a rare few will actually follow through on one or two of them. But I hardly consider that to be a sufficient justification for winning my vote. Our principles are demonstrated not only by what we say, but also by what we do. Neither party’s actions reflect a strong commitment to my core values and associated goals. So I must choose another option.

It simply is not strategic to vote for a party that does not share — and often actively opposes! — your goals and values. All that such voting does is encourage the two dominant parties to become more and more oppressive and destructive because no one is left to hold them accountable.

Voting for third party candidates who share your goals and values is a strategic choice. It is a tangible and practical way to support a shift in the direction of your goals and values. Voting for someone who does not share your goals and values simply because they’re currently more popular is counterproductive. Remember the many two-party candidates who have betrayed your values in the past and refuse to empower them to do so again. Instead of caving in to peer pressure and fear of the most horrific candidate, push for what you believe in. Seek to create a place for it in our society, both on election day and on every other day of the year.

If we’re ruled by fear when we enter the voting booth, our land will be ruled by fear when we leave it.

If after reading all of the above, you still don’t consider third party voting to be a strategic choice, then just know that for me, voting is also an ethical choice. I take democracy very seriously. Eventually, I would like to live in a society where all people are directly and democratically involved in the process of making public policy decisions. Until that day, voting is one of the few widely agreed upon ways to engage in the democratic process. I take voting very seriously and hold myself personally responsible for the actions of the representatives for whom I vote. If I cast a vote for someone, and they go around fracking Southern Illinois, supporting wars of aggression overseas, dodging action on global warming, etc., then I share in the responsibility for those actions. And I refuse to be a party to any of that. Instead, I choose to resist their harmful actions and develop more constructive solutions, both on election day and on every other day of the year.

This is my perspective on the spoiler fallacy. As you enter the voting booth this year, please keep this perspective in mind and vote accordingly. Educate yourself on the candidates and choose the one who you genuinely believe most closely represents your values. Regardless of what you do on election day, do what you can on every other day to create communities and societies where we the people are the ones making public policy decisions together.

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Two Easy Choices For Southern Illinois

Voting isn’t always easy. Elections in the U.S. are dominated by two big parties. Neither truly represents you. In the past, maybe you voted for one out of fear of the other. Maybe you didn’t vote at all. This November, though, there are two easy choices for Southern Illinois. There are two races where you can vote for a third-party candidate who’s running against an “unopposed” candidate.

Vote for write-in candidates Catherine Talbott in Illinois District 117 and Tabitha Tripp in Illinois District 118.

[If you don’t know what district you live in, check here. District 117 includes Marion, West Frankfurt, Benton, Carterville, Williamson County, Franklin County, and a chunk of southwest Hamilton County. District 118 includes eastern Carbondale, Makanda, Harrisburg, eastern Union County, most of Hamilton County, and all of Alexander, Pulaski, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Saline, Gallatin, and Hardin Counties. If you’ve never voted for a write-in before, it’s simple.]

Some people choose not to vote for third-party candidates because they’re afraid of the so-called “spoiler effect”. I’ll talk more about this “spoiler effect fallacy” in my next post or two. I’ll also share some of my endorsements in other races. In the meantime, I want to make my case for these two candidates.

I’ve had the good fortune of knowing both Catherine and Tabitha for several years. Let me tell you a bit about them.

Catherine Talbott is a mother and grandmother who has lived and worked in Southern Illinois for 33 years. At some point in every conversation I’ve had with her, she’s shared her keen insights into something we can do to improve life for the working people and families of Southern Illinois. She’s a write-in candidate because she believes that “we the people” need someone who will fight to lift up our people out of poverty and create a new economy based on caring and sharing the abundance that is produced. She says that none of us are secure as long as one of us is homeless, hungry, and without the necessities of life. She is an advocate of green jobs, clean energy, and a ban on fracking.

Tabitha Tripp is an artist and mother who has spent a remarkable amount of time and energy working to keep Southern Illinois safe from the destructive practice of fracking. She became involved in fracktivism after learning about risks to water supplies and the devastation the industry causes to rural communities. Her passion for justice is matched by her consistent hard work as an organizer and the intelligence and wisdom she applies in her response to public policy concerns such as fracking. She lives in unincorporated Union county with her two children and partner on a fourth generation family farm, where their only source of water is a deep well that is threatened by fracking.

The biggest issue on my mind at the state level is fracking. Both of these women have been more active on fracking than I have — organizing and participating in protests, letter-writing campaigns, canvassing, strategy sessions, coalition building, and so on. These two women are already doing the work that your state legislators should be doing — protecting you from the many harms associated with fracking and working toward a brighter future for Southern Illinois. If elected, they will continue protecting your health, safety, and other interests in Springfield.

As Shawnee Green Party candidates, they also have good values and positive plans for how to make things better, including a comprehensive plan for improving the state and national economy. The Green New Deal and other Green policies would provide green jobs for the people of Southern Illinois and beyond. These would be quality jobs that provide a healthy, stable future for both the workers themselves and the people of Southern Illinois in general..

By comparison, the Democratic candidates, John Bradley and Brandon Phelps, both look ridiculously ill-equipped to serve our interests in Springfield. They are both active spokesmen for fracking. Their brilliant plan for our region is to poison the land, water, and air that we rely on for eating, drinking, breathing. In the process, they will also shut down a variety of local sources of jobs such as farms, wineries, breweries, tourism, and more. Under Bradley and Phelps, we would also miss out on good solar jobs — a tremendous growth industry! — that are currently going upstate because our representatives aren’t trying to bring them to Southern Illinois. If no one challenges these two men, they will use that lack of opposition as evidence that everyone in their district wants fracking — and the boom-and-bust cycle of poverty and sickness that goes with it.

The choice is clear. For the sake of stopping fracking in Illinois, and for the sake promoting green jobs and healthy futures for our children, I urge you to vote for Catherine Talbott and Tabitha Tripp if you are in their district.

Yes, they’re both write-in candidates. If that has you hesitating, consider this:

  • Write-in candidates have won elections before. It can happen again.
  • Turnout tends to be lower at so-called “midterm elections”. The voters who do turn out tend to focus on gubernatorial and congressional races. It wouldn’t take much to turn the tide in these state rep races.
  • Even if your write-in candidate doesn’t win, garnering a large share of the votes will indicate strong support for change. Politicians in Springfield may start listening to the parts of Southern Illinois that they tend to ignore the most.
  • There’s only one candidate on the ballot in your district. Even if your write-in candidate doesn’t win, what harm will it do? You can’t use the spoiler excuse this time.

On November 4, vote for Catherine Talbott in District 117 and Tabitha Tripp in District 118. And please help us spread the word! Your support in the final days of this election cycle can help make their campaigns a success. Get involved and share this message with your friends both online and offline. Together, we can make a difference.

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Fall Harvest Sale

In honor of Autumn Equinox, the harvest festival of Mabon, and the People's Climate March, I'm having a Fall Harvest Sale! Starting on Monday, September 22, you can get the Kindle edition of my novel, Change, for just 99 cents. That's a 75% discount! This is a Kindle Countdown Sale, so the sooner you order, the better your bargain will be. The price will go up a dollar every couple of days until it returns to normal price. Buy your copy today and invite your friends to do the same!

In other news, have you checked out my climate fiction blog? Goodbye Miami is the tale of an American climate refugee who is displaced by Hurricane Florence in the year 2030. Follow Kass's adventures by visiting the Goodbye Miami blog and liking Goodbye Miami on Facebook. Life has been quite busy lately. I have plenty of other news and thoughts to share, but I'll save that for another entry after the sale. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Change and Goodbye Miami!

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Continue The Struggle Against Fracking

Illinois State Rep. John Bradley's bill to speed up fracking has failed miserably. Thank you to everyone who came out to various events yesterday to declare your opposition. Your efforts surely helped to bring a swift and decisive end to this outrageous bill.

People in Springfield and the fracking industry now know that the frackivist movement is alive and well in Illinois. We were able to mobilize a significant number of people over a holiday weekend in at least two major locations across the state. The ultimate result was the sudden death of an ill-conceived pro-fracking bill. This is good news.

However, as we celebrate this victory, we must remember that this was just one bill. The broader struggle against fracking continues. The fracking industry is already gearing up for low-volume horizontal fracking that slides through a loophole in the new fracking regulations and thus is mostly unregulated. Also, sometime between now and November, the IDNR will likely release an amended version of the fracking rules. These rules will legalize high-volume horizontal fracking without really protecting the people and lands of Southern Illinois from the poisoned water, poisoned air, poisoned land, earthquakes, and many other social and environmental harms associated with fracking. If we do nothing, then sooner or later, Southern Illinois will still be fracked.

Let's take this as our cue to go on the offensive against fracking. We must reward Bradley for his efforts by putting him out of office and replacing him with someone who opposes fracking. We must use various political and protest tactics to stop the low-volume fracking that is already receiving permits. We must use similar tactics to demand a complete statewide ban of fracking.

Most of all, if they refuse us our ban, we must demonstrate that we, the people of Illinois, are willing to enforce a citizens' ban on fracking. We are willing to use civil, nonviolent means to protect ourselves and our neighbors from any violent extraction activities brought into our region by politicians and corporations. Legislation and court orders aren't the only way to shut down fracking in Illinois. Lockdowns and blockades in Springfield and Southern Illinois would work just as well. But hopefully we can settle this like reasonable adults and find solutions to our state's economic and political problems that don't involve some corporation poisoning my friends and laying ruin to the land that I love.

So take some time to celebrate this victory. This was a fairly straightforward victory that was handed to us on a silver platter by a man named John Bradley who clearly knows less about politics than his constituents. But as you celebrate, remember that the struggle for environmental and social justice continues, and do what you can to support that struggle.

Call your politicians and demand a ban on fracking. Sign petitions, attend protests, march in marches, hold discussions and dinners and film showings, support green energy and green jobs, vote for candidates who oppose fracking, do whatever it takes to rally support for the cause. Because at the end of the day, as both John Bradley and everyone who opposed him yesterday has demonstrated, it's up to us to stop fracking and create a better future for ourselves, our region, and our world.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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