Vote Stein!?

Does Jill Stein have vastly better policy positions than Hillary Clinton? Of course. Would having President Stein be better than having President Clinton? Certainly. Clinton is not just worse than Stein, but abysmal, and is not just better than Clinton but really good.

More, isn’t the duopoly party system, mainstream media, corporations, the legal system, and all other defining features of our society intrinsically producing and defending injustice in the U.S. and throughout the world? Absolutely.

So what do the above truths imply about election 2016?

To decide, we should note that however often Stein says she is in it to win it – she is at about 3% and is not going to win it. We all know that and she undoubtedly knows it too. But we should also note that winning isn’t the only reason sensible people vote for a candidate.

For example, won’t more people voting for Stein display greater popular support for progressive change? Won’t more Stein voters help generate more left organizing while also elevating a third party? And aren’t these excellent reasons to vote for Stein? Yes, they are, but what logic makes these reasons so excellent?

It is not that we like Stein a lot. It is not that we hate Clinton a lot. It is also not that we hate the duopoly party system a lot, nor that we like the Greens a lot. It is, instead, that a higher Stein vote will increase the likelihood of more people fighting for change after Election Day. A higher Stein vote will reveal greater numbers, readiness, and willingness of progressives which will in turn inspire additional support. And a higher Stein vote will help the Green Party grow and challenge the current electoral system.

But what if some of our votes for Stein would not have only those positive effects but would also have some serious negative effects? Then what should we do? Well, if that were the case, then being true to progressive logic, we would have to carefully weigh implications to see if “vote for Stein everywhere” or “vote for Stein almost everywhere” was the more productive option.

In that case, we should ask, could voting for Stein in contested states lead to a Trump presidency? Could voting for Clinton instead of Stein in contested states help beat Trump but also, as a cost, reduce the prospects for people voting for Stein elsewhere, or reduce the likelihood of contested state voters later opposing a Clinton Administration?

Here are two points that bear attention when considering how to vote.

  1. Trump implementing policies would be vastly worse for humanity both now and later. Trump winning would also be vastly worse for turning the desires revealed by the Sanders campaign into sustained activism, and even for strengthening the Green Party itself. And Trump winning would distort future activism by orienting it toward warding off Trump’s reactionary programs instead of toward winning positive gains.
  2. Stein could tell her supporters in closely contested states, in a closely contested election (should that situation confront us in late October), in a way that would not hurt but actually help the Greens, activism, and the country and world: “Please, hear me. We need to build the Green Party. We need to defeat the duopoly hold of the mainstream parties. We need to win the various policies I have been advocating. However, in the regrettable situation we face, to best help with all that, for the ten minutes it will take on election day, I urge you to hold your nose and vote for Clinton to stop Trump here in Ohio (or Florida, or wherever it makes sense). But the minute you leave the voting booth and overcome your angst and anger at society being in such a condition that you have to do such a thing, please prepare to join me and all those who vote for me in safe states, and to join many more people as well, to fight for justice against corporate and government opposition, whether against a Clinton or a Trump Administration.” 

Notice, point 1 says not one positive word about Clinton, Democrats, the two party system, or other aspects of current society. It merely claims that in the current context each reason for voting for Stein in a safe state like Massachusetts, say, is a reason to vote for Clinton, however painful it may personally be, in a contested state like Ohio, if in fact Ohio is up for grabs and the election is in doubt too, comes November.

Likewise, point 2 raises no objection to the Greens, does not criticize Stein, and does not praise Clinton. It only claims that a particular choice by Stein and the Greens would be beneficial, if context requires it, for the country and for the Greens as well.

It ought to be evident that advocating that Stein and the Greens adopt the proposed strategic voting/campaigning approach it says precisely nothing about being either more or less radical, or even more or less in favor of growing the Green Party, than does advocating voting for Stein everywhere. Advocating strategic lesser evil voting/campaigning reveals nothing about degree of radicalness, or degree of revolutionariness, or degree of opposition to duopoly, or degree of opposition to the Democratic Party, or degree of support for the Green Party. The only thing being for strategic lesser evil voting/campaigning evidences is one’s assessment of all the varied debits of a Trump victory as compared to the debits of Stein seeking less votes in a few contested states.

Too much debate so far has focused on what is not in question, and not about enough on what is in question. For example, who has asked what the impact would be if Stein did as suggested above in Ohio or Florida or some other contested state? Who has asked whether Stein doing that would have even a minor adverse affect on the Greens, or would save them from having to defend themselves against outraged criticism?

Who has asked whether Stein saying her supporters should vote for Clinton in a contested state in a contested election would diminish the likelihood of those voters appreciating Stein and the Greens after the election? Who has asked if it would reduce votes for Stein and Greens in safe states and would diminish the likelihood of people working with Greens after election day in contested or safe states?

I do not see why Stein adopting such an approach would have any of the assumed negative effects to any serious extent. Saying it would is, to my ears, saying that Stein supporters can’t make a simple strategic choice in a difficult context and then move forward without jettisoning their commitments.

On the other hand, could Stein urging strategic voting where it is needed be necessary for stopping Trump? Not only could it be, Stein wouldn’t have any reason to do it unless that possibility was in play.

Viewed this way, the issue becomes can we have a progressive candidate with some nuance? On the one side we have a progressive campaign that offers policies we can support. On the other side, we have a possible danger of catastrophic dimensions. Can we pay attention to both? Can we have a progressive electoral campaign that understands that its priority isn’t to maximize its vote tally on election day, but is, instead, to facilitate the best situation the country, as well as for activism, after the election? If that means it should a campaign should seek votes everywhere, great do it. But if it means it should forego votes somewhere, fine, do that.

Are the Greens and Stein offering an accountable, transparent, totally honest approach to elections that is attentive to issues beyond one’s own immediate focus when they claim, while polling at 4% or less, that they are going to win? Are they offering a new approach when they say that all that matters is Stein’s total number of votes? Are they succumbing to bad election dynamics or pursuing better new ones when they put what may even be a mistaken assessment of Green interests ahead of all other possible interests without even entertaining a path of compromise designed to address all costs and benefits and not just those old style election logic says are alone central? Is it innovative, new, and a model for the future when many Stein supporters act like concern about Trump makes one an apologist for the status quo?

To those who have found themselves dismissing people like myself and so many others as “sheep herding,” not least including Chomsky and Sanders, because we all think that the most constructive approach to the ten minutes of voting on election day is, only where necessary, strategic lesser evil voting – I would request taking some time to reassess. To those who are saying that somehow, in their view, saying to vote for Clinton in contested states and only in contested states reveals that we have all along been closet allies of the Democratic Party or that we are in favor of preserving rather than altering society, I would ask you to think twice about that conclusion.

Indeed, I wonder what could cause you to so quickly and easily decide that anyone who disagrees with voting for Stein everywhere – is, simply on that account, bereft of radical and/or revolutionary desires? What could cause you to celebrate people and their views one day, and not just to disagree with the same people, but to ridicule and revile them the next day, as if you had previously been duped, or some such thing?

Is what has given you the confidence for such a sweeping dismissal of others that you have studied the role of the Democratic Party, the role of third parties, the dynamics of organizing, and the logic of society’s defining institutions more carefully than those you dismiss? Is it that you have long been more astute, more committed, more openly and avowedly critical, and for that matter more openly and uncompromisingly supportive of well conceived alternatives for society so it is just the last straw of a long simmering difference that is now causing your anger? Or is your anger more recent and less admirable?

There is time, still, to set aside the personal dismissals and judgements – by people on both sides – so that this discussion can resolve into choices that not only stop Trump and get lots of votes for Stein, but that also avoid arriving at a point of horrible need for activists to either stand by their degrading assessments of other activists, or to apologize for nasty things they have said about other activists.

Can we all pause to reconsider?

Yes, it is true that some people advocate voting for Stein everywhere without careful thought. But there is no point in lesser evil strategic voting advocates harping on that. The thing to do instead is to address the logic that serious Stein advocates offer for their stance.

And yes, it is true that many liberals say don’t vote for Stein anywhere, vote for Clinton everywhere. But there is no point in Stein advocates harping on that. The thing to do instead is to address the logic that serious lesser evil advocates offer.

To proclaim “I am right,” no matter which side of this dispute one is on, while ignoring the substance that is at stake and while hurling non sequitur attacks at those you disagree with, will achieve nothing positive. Let’s say goodbye to that. Let’s take contending views seriously. Let’s take serious activists seriously.


  1. Tony DiMaggio September 17, 2016 8:40 am 

    If there was a party I found the least objectionable in American politics it would be the greens. But at the end of the day it doesn’t make me feel any better to vote green and be right by choosing a progressive party that eschews local and state party building to run vanity campaigns to stroke egos of national figures like stein. This has been the big knock on stein and the Green Party from those I’m friends with who walked away from the party. They say it has no interest in the day to day necessary work of bottom up party building. Running for local dog catcher offices just isn’t sexy, so screw it be it’s beneath us progressives. I can’t get behind such destructive egotism, even if their politics is infinitely better than the corporatist warmonger Dems. I’ve never been a dem, I greatly dislike Hillary, but this is honestly the first time in my life where a candidate makes me so scared be of their fascist leanings that it would motivate me to vote based on lesser of two evils. Trump is the scariest thing I’ve seen in modern politics, and I believe he would be definitively and qualitatively worse than any of the horrors we’ve seen from the two party monopoly in modern times. I just don’t think sane people can sit by and allow someone to be elected who is set on revoking basically the entire bill of rights and who openly embraces white supremacist politics.

    • quaid hutchinson September 18, 2016 2:08 am 

      The Boogeyman is scary. But we mustn’t let fear cloud our judgement.
      Glen Ford hasn’t allowed it to affect his:
      “Having definitively turned their party to the Right a generation ago, the Clintons now see an opportunity to use Donald Trump’s destruction of the Republican Party as-we-knew-it to forge a unitary corporate super-party encompassing all of the Democrats’ base constituencies, Democrat-friendly Wall Street and Silicon Valley plutocrats, plus those oligarchs and “national security” and “defense” circles that have traditionally been linked to the GOP. Only the rump of Trump “deplorables” would be left outside the “Big Tent,” along with a small and disorganized Left. That’s the plan.”

  2. quaid hutchinson September 14, 2016 8:05 am 

    Don’t take it personally Michael, but I disagree with your lesser evil theory.
    I agree with Michael Hudson:
    “I believe Hillary’s the greater evil, not Trump, because Trump is incompetent and doesn’t have the staff around him, or the political support that Hilary has… he doesn’t know what policy he’ll do. I think he hasn’t thought it through yet. So we don’t know. Whatever policy he has, I don’t think he could get it through Congress. And the president can’t do all that much without congressional approval. And that’s what America needs. America needs an ineffective president. That’s much better than an effective president that’s going to go to war with Russia, that’s going to push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that’s going to protect Wall Street, and that’s going to oppose neoliberal austerity. I would much rather have an ineffective president than someone who’s going to do these bad things that I fear is going to come from Hillary and the Democratic Party.”
    Very wise and true words, in my opinion of course.
    Glen Ford has written some brilliant articles about Hillary’s “Big Tent”, but I haven’t seen them on znet, I haven’t seen Ford on znet for almost a year.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert September 14, 2016 1:22 pm 

      Quaid –

      I guess we have to agree to disagree. I don’t take it personally. And, yes, your position is certainly logical – that is, if Clinton is worse than Trump, but presumably not by much, lesser evil voting in this case wouldn’t amount to very much. Though if you think she is way worse, then, honestly, you should be voting for Trump in contested states, I guess. But the idea that someone progressive and leftist could think such a thing – well – I do find that hard to comprehend.

      • quaid hutchinson September 15, 2016 8:31 am 

        It’s not so hard Michael.
        Imagine this: when President Hillary pushes for no fly zones over Syria, she will be backed by a sympathetic (corporate) media, and the neocons, so she will get her way, and take us another step closer to war with Russia.
        If President Trump pushes for no fly zones over Syria, it will be greeted as another idiotic idea from the buffoon of a president.
        Simply put, as President, Hillary is far more likely to get her way than president Trump, who is likely to be the most resisted US President in history, she will likely be the more effective evil.

    • avatar
      Ed Lytwak September 14, 2016 2:55 pm 

      I heartily second seeing some – a lot – of Black Agenda Report stuff on Znet. Their take on the upcoming presidential patriarchal erection, HRC and the Greens is spot on!

    • Tony DiMaggio September 17, 2016 8:47 am 

      That’s naive, to put it politely. Do you honestly believe someone like trump will go thru congress when they say no? He will simply issue executive orders instead of laws. And no one in either party will have the will or guts to remove him short of people rioting in the streets. He’s too strong of a personality and dem-rep party leaders are too tepid and corrupt to take a principled stand. The mistake leftists make is pretending trump has any respect for parliamentary democracy. God I hope I’m wrong, but at this point it’s naive to think a fascist will respect the rule of law when he’s spit on it more than any candidate in modern history.

      • quaid hutchinson September 18, 2016 2:18 am 

        “…it’s naive to think a fascist will respect the rule of law when he’s spit on it more than any candidate in modern history.”

        Really Tony?

        Did you reach this conclusion by comparing the records of the candidates?

        I’d be interested to know what the “spit” count is?

  3. Glenn Fritz September 14, 2016 2:04 am 

    If a vote for Stein is somehow determined by Democrats to be stealing a vote from Hillary, the assumption must be that there is a common ground between Stein and Hillary that would result in a split vote.

    A vote for Hillary in a state where she is sure to lose is a wasted vote since it has no effect on the outcome of the election.

    So if Hillary would campaign for Stein in states where Hillary is sure to lose and Stein would campaign for Hillary in swing states to ensure a Hillary win over Trump, then both would stand to win something from the participation of each other in a joint move to the left.

    A CBC broadcast claimed that this worked in Canada where two liberal parties, where instead of splitting the liberal vote to the advantage of the major conservative party, the liberal parties coordinated to defeat the major conservative party.

    If Hillary did coordinate with Stein to ensure a more certain defeat of Trump, she would demonstrate that she considers a candidate to the left (and a move to the left) is a lesser evil than a possible Trump win.

    If Hillary did not cooperate with Stein she would demonstrate that her real interest is in consolidating the power of Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans to defeat Trump in a move to the right.

    In other words, Hillary will be in a position to choose a rightward move to defeat Trump with the support of anti-Trump Republican votes or a leftward move to defeat Trump with the support of Green Party votes.

    In a close election Hillary must decide from her perspective whether Trump or Stein is the lesser evil.

    If Sanders could still become the Green Party candidate and coordinate with Hillary in the way proposed here, Sanders would not go down, as he fears, as the “Ralph Nader of 2016”, but as making the decisive move in the defeat of Trump.

    Sanders has already subordinated himself to Hillary so this would not be a stretch, and would also empower the movement of his supporters.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert September 14, 2016 1:26 pm 


      Yes, I can think of a bunch of nice scenarios, too. And the idea that Clinton would be culpable for losing to Trump – of course. So? Clinton is who she is… Trump is who he is… The party system is what it is… In that context, what might Stein do to ensure, if it is in doubt, a Trump loss and a Green gain. Since Stein is presumably on the left, unlike all the other variables, she should care about this, as should we all. So that is where there is potential for a solution.

      • Glenn Fritz September 14, 2016 3:02 pm 

        Since neither party of the duopoly will campaign in any state except where the polls are so even that they present as swing states, all votes for a sure loser in those states are wasted votes. It doesn’t matter if Hillary loses by one vote or by a million votes, she will receive absolutely zero Electoral College votes from that state.

        For example, if a state is given up as a lost battle for Hillary with Trump at 60% and Hillary at 40%, then all votes for Hillary are wasted votes because they have absolutely no impact on the number of Electoral College votes Hillary receives because Electoral College votes are allocated by winner-take-all rules.

        If millions of votes that would otherwise be wasted in voting for Hillary were instead given to the Green Party, the Green Party would become viable by exceeding the 5% vote total to be recognized as a national party in all states.

        Bernie Sanders could campaign for Hillary Clinton in swing states as he has pledged to do from the very beginning and still campaign for the Green Party in states where votes for Hillary would otherwise count for absolutely nothing.

        This would further strengthen the electoral power of the very voters that supported Sanders in the primary without splitting the vote and ensuring a Trump win.

      • Glenn Fritz September 14, 2016 3:28 pm 

        This Electoral College election system has been gamed by the oligarchy against democracy from its very inception.

        My proposal is a means for voters to game the gamed system in return, without inadvertently contributing to a result grossly contrary to their interests.

  4. John Ely September 13, 2016 4:18 pm 

    Nice always to hear from the anarchists assaulting the liberal oligarchy, but social oligarchy (say Sweden) is better than the liberal one, and government by either is a precondition for avoiding fascism. Even Bookchin thought the third period was idiotic….The problem with Albert’s suggestion is that probably only 20% of the GPUSA agrees with him, and Stein would never consider option two. I make myself unpopular in these circles by emphasizing a vote safe for the greens and left only if there is a 10% polling lead in the last week….Alas Greens don’t do rational voting; and the stuff Stein says about the Donald is a pale but recognizable shadow of Nach Hitler kommen Wir….Council communists with a real inside outside approach to duopoly. This is not an organized phenomenon despite some intelligent voices….

    • avatar
      Michael Albert September 14, 2016 1:28 pm 

      I assume you know whereof you speak in describing the Greens current views but I wonder how they would shift if everyone who believes it is necessary to grow the Greens but also beat Trump expressed themselves fully? Much less how they would shift if Stein were to do so.

  5. Tyler Healey September 13, 2016 3:57 pm 

    “Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”

    – Howard Zinn

    • avatar
      Michael Albert September 14, 2016 1:31 pm 


      Howard is correct, but it has bearing, how? Even if one thinks the policies enacted by officials, and the biases and tendencies their ascension generates were irrelevant to people’s lives, still, howard’s admonition would translate to what matters about an election is its implication for prospects of serious activism leading forward, after. Trump would generate plenty of activism, to be sure, but its orientation would be to prevent moving backward.

      • Tyler Healey September 14, 2016 5:59 pm 


        I think we spend way too much time talking about the ballot. One outcome of this election is certain: the House of Representatives will stay under Republican control. They have masterfully gerrymandered districts so that they’ll keep the House even if this becomes a wave election.

  6. John Goodr September 13, 2016 2:12 pm 

    Continuing activism and movement politics after the election ( any election) are necessary for real change .

    The problem with that strategy is that the mind-control under our freedom of speech and the press is a major impediment to large-scale social organization .
    There are not enough people who are in fundamental disagreement with the root cause of our societal problems : neo-liberal capitalism to form even a cadre yet this is the only route we have .
    The corporate media and the oligarch-serving government have long worked out the most effective lies and effective means of suppressing dissent . They benefitted more from the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and movements in terms of how to crush movements than we on the left gained in learning how to create a more effective left.
    Murray Bookchin pointed out that the days of red flag waving and massive worker parades are gone for good.
    “Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work ” : Srinicek and Williams
    has an extensive section on why movements of the recent past have failed to succeed and it is due to the inability of even progressive movements to maintain large enough numbers of participants to have any lasting effect .

    The center-right majority of the country thinks things are as they have to be but with a small amount of tweaking to make things better .

    They not only do not welcome fundamental change, they fear it because they have been taught to fear it all their lives .

    That mind control is not growing weaker but stronger and far more sophisticated .
    although nowadays the sledgehammer fact-free indoctrination served up by outlets like Fox is sufficient to tamp down an already dumbed-down viewership’s thoughts of fighting the system .

    The titles of two of Noam Chomsky’s books on the U.S. corporate media pretty much sum up the state of affairs : ” Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies and ( with Edward Herman of Fog Watch) “Manufacturing Consent :The Political Economy of The Mass Media”

    So the question is: how can grass-roots organizations hope to compete with the constant and mesmerizing flood of TV /corporate media disinformation for the hearts and minds of a sufficient number of people to make a radical change movement possible ?

    This is not the 30s or the 60s .
    This is 1984

  7. avatar
    Michael September 13, 2016 10:14 am 

    At this point in the decline of the empire and the deep, broad corruption of politics, Stein does not “deserve” to be president. She is too decent, it seems to me. She deserves a better life.

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