An image of the US electoral vote breakdown from Nick Byrd's "I voted third party..."

So you voted third party or didn’t vote at all. Did you help Trump win?

Did you end up not voting? Did you vote for a third party? Was that just a vote for Trump? Good question. It depends on how you normally vote.

1.  Do you normally vote for one major party?

Let’s say that, historically, you’ve voted for the democratic candidate. In that case when you voted third party or didn’t vote at all, you made Clinton less likely to win by one vote. And that is tantamount to saying that you made Trump more likely to win by one vote.

Or maybe you voted for Trump. In that case, you made Trump more likely to win by two votes. That is, you took away one vote that would have otherwise gone to Clinton and gave that one vote to Trump.

2.  Do you normally vote for a third party?

But maybe you usually vote for a third party. In that case, when you voted third party, you didn’t really take a vote away from either candidate — because neither major parties’ candidate should have expected your vote by default.

However, if you didn’t vote at all, then that’s another story. You’re not voting weakened the third party by one vote. Overall, that strengthened both major parties.

3. Do you normally not vote at all?

Maybe you tend to not vote. In that case, then when you voted third party this time around, you made both major major parties’ candidates less likely to win.

But if you didn’t vote at all again, then you didn’t make either candidate more or less likely to win. 

Take Aways

  1. Whether or not your vote helped Trump win the election depends on your normal voting habits.
  2. Those who default to third parties are less likely to have their vote accidentally count in favor of a major party.
  3. If you didn’t vote at all, then you either strengthened (at least) one of the major parties’ candidates or else had no impact at all, depending on your default voting habit.

Related Reading

Nerds might notice (or at least care) that the claims I make above are relevant to what many philosophers argue about in the literature about causation. To see what I’m talking about, you can check out the following (in the following order):

Menzies, P. (2011). The Role of Counterfactual Dependence in Causal Judgements. In C. Hoerl, T. McCormack, & S. R. Beck (Eds.), Understanding Counterfactuals, Understanding Causation (pp. 186–208). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hart, H. L. A., & Honoré, T. (1985). Causation in the Law. OUP Oxford.

Kahneman, D., & Miller, D. T. (1986). Norm theory: Comparing reality to its alternatives. Psychological Review, 93(2), 136–153. [PDF]

Published by

Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. When he is not teaching, in the lab, writing, exercising, or relaxing, he is blogging at www.byrdnick.com/blog