At the first meeting of NYU College Libertarians on Tuesday, students took turns introducing themselves to the room and sharing why they had come. Some were motivated by philosophy: “I’m here because I read Atlas Shrugged,” one CAS student said simply. Others were concerned with policy: “I believe in the end of the war on drugs,” shared another student. For some, it was simply personal: “I just want to be able to smoke weed and eat pussy and be left alone,” declared Britt Simpson, a Gallatin junior.
The few dozen students there are among a small but unusually informed and impassioned scattering of NYU students investigating political philosophies outside of the Democratic and Republican platforms. Now, as students prepare to vote in November, some plan to cast their ballot for neither Obama nor Romney, but for one of the so-called “third party” candidates appearing on the 2012 ballot.
Although there are a diverse array of parties — including the Constitution Party, the Peace and Freedom Party and four flavors of socialist parties — only two candidates will appear on ballots in enough states to conceivably win the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the presidency.
Jill Stein, a physician from Massachusetts, is the nominee for the Green Party. In November, her name will appear on the ballot in at least 33 states (that number may grow as supporters continue to collect signatures). A recent Gallup poll projected Stein to receive 1% of the popular vote in November; that’s better than 2004, when Green Party nominee David Cobb received just 0.096% of the vote – but not as good as the 2.74% that Ralph Nader pulled in as the party’s nominee in 2000.
Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico will represent the Libertarian Party on ballots in at least 43 states. That same Gallup poll found 3% support for the former governor. That’s a high for the party, which hasn’t received more than 1% of the popular vote since 1980.
College Libertarians Media Chair Britton Burdick explained why he plans to vote Johnson for president when he casts his ballot in New York City this fall. “In general terms, neither candidate — Republican or Democrat — represents my views at all,” he explained. Burdick, a 24 year-old politics student in SCPS, said that he wouldn’t settle for candidates whose views he disagreed with. He cited Romney’s consistent inconsistency, calling him a “horrible politician” whose social policies he hates. Burdick doesn’t look on Obama any more favorably. “There is an astounding similarity between Obama and Bush,” Burdick said, from the President’s continued use of the controversial practice of extraordinary rendition to his expansion of drone warfare in the Middle East.
But not every member of the Libertarians group planned to vote for Johnson. Britt Simpson, the “smoke weed / eat pussy” Gallatin student (concentration: “queer studies, journalism, and psychology”), said that she still plans to vote for Obama this year. She said there’s “no chance we could have a third party candidate,” and that the Republican ticket is too frightening to risk not voting for Obama. “I think Mitt Romney is terrifying, and I think Paul Ryan is insensitive. I don’t want him to have anything to do with my vagina.”
Still, Simpson’s support for Obama is tepid at best. “I think he has good intentions,” she volunteered. Nonetheless, she felt she was “absolutely” settling by voting for the incumbent, not Johnson. “I have to compromise, which sucks,” she said.
Although the Green Party isn’t formally represented by any group on campus, supporters of Green candidate Jill Stein can still be found. James Kopf, a sophomore studying German and Politics, will vote for the first time this November, when he plans to support Stein in his home state of Pennsylvania.
“Jill Stein represents the progressive liberal attitude that I tend to associate myself with,” Kopf said. He appreciated her “lack of corporate sponsorship” and her anti-war, pro-drug-legalization and single-payer health-care platform. To him, Obama is simply the lesser of two evils – and a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.
“It’s not throwing away my vote,” Kopf said. “I can’t think of a better chance to make my vote mean something.”
Libertarian Britton Burdick also disagreed with the popular view that a vote for a third party is a wasted vote. “If I vote for Romney, I’m throwing my vote away anyways. This is New York City,” he said (in 2008, Obama received 86% of the vote in Manhattan).
Will Cromarty, Chairman of the NYU Libertarians group, also disagreed that to vote third party is to throw away one’s vote. “I don’t owe anyone my personal vote,” he objected. “If a party picks a bad candidate, they’re throwing my vote away.” In his view, Obama and Romney are just that: bad candidates. Instead, Cromarty will be voting for Johnson, who he called “the only rational candidate that I’ve found so far.”
Cromarty stressed that “libertarianism is, first and foremost, a philosophy,” not a political party; however, this being an election year, many libertarian’s eyes are on Johnson. On Monday, the former governor will speak to NYU students in Kimmel, where he’ll be joined by Jesse Ventura, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Lisa Kennedy, and Kristin Davis (most known for her role as former governor Elliot Spitzer’s prostitute’s madame; lesser known for running for governor of New York in 2010 on an “Anti-Prohibition” platform).
Despite the big names on campus, supporters of Stein and Johnson may have a hard time winning over student voters. Since 2000, third-party candidates have gotten a bad rap for the “spoiler effect.” That’s what politicos call it when a third-party candidate pulls votes from a mainstream candidate, allowing the opponent to win. It’s also what many say happened in Florida in 2000, where the nearly 100,000 votes won by Nader far outweighed the 537 votes by which Bush defeated Gore. Political scientists have debated Nader’s effect on the election ever since, but the myth perseveres.
As a third-party voter, Kopf expects to remain part of a small minority for some time. “Given the framework of our representative government, changes are exceedingly large that it will forever remain a battleground for two major players,” he said. Still, he remains hopeful: “I’d really like to see the era of more robust third parties again in American politics.”