If you are like many college students, you probably find that you have barely enough time to complete your class work, let alone follow the news everyday. In case you have managed to avoid a newspaper since you came to campus in August, I am here with some potentially bad news: Hillary Clinton has lost the solid lead in the polls that she maintained towards the end of the summer. Nate Silver, the famed statistician of FiveThirtyEight, currently has Clinton’s chance of winning the election at only 55.8%, while a month ago he predicted her chance of winning at 80.9%. Furthermore, Donald Trump seems to be gaining more momentum in key battleground states like Florida and Ohio — both of which Silver predicted would vote for Clinton in August and now predicts will go to Trump.
However, Clinton still has time to come back from her bumpy September. It is likely that after Clinton’s strong debate performance earlier this week we will see an increase in her polling numbers. The debate gave her the opportunity to demonstrate her solid grasp on issues and explain her policy proposals (which Trump continues to lack entirely). Clinton experienced a bump in the polls in July after the Democratic National Convention, which gave her a similar platform to show off her strengths as a candidate. One of the few reliable polls conducted the night of the debate by CNN found that viewers thought Clinton ‘won’ Monday night’s debate (and while there can be arguments over what this really means in the long run, it will likely translate into at least some uptick in the polls in the following days). It must be noted that their voting sample was skewed slightly to the Democratic side, but of the self reported Independent participants 54% thought Clinton had a stronger performance, compared to 33% who thought Trump did.
Recent polling has also shown that demographic trends are nearly as concerning as Clinton’s crashing poll numbers this month. A major poll conducted by Quinnipiac University during mid-September found that 44% of likely voters from ages 18-34 would vote for a third party candidate (Gary Johnson or Jill Stein) if the elections were held today. For comparison, 21% of voters between 35-49 years of age and 9% of voters between 50-64 years of age would vote for either of these third party candidates if the election were held today. This is especially distressing because of the high number of young voters that turned out – and arguably clinched the election for – Obama in key states like Florida in 2008 and 2012. Of course, everyone is entitled to vote the way that they choose. The concern is that young voters may not completely understand the ramifications of casting a ‘protest’ vote in an election as controversial as this one. Voting for a third party candidate in an electoral college ‘winner take all’ system has the same impact as not voting. As the 2000 election showed us, voting for a third party candidate can have significant ramifications; when a large group of people votes for a third party candidate, the candidate least preferred by the most number of people may win.
For the countless millennials who were Bernie Sanders supporters that are now considering voting for a third party candidate, I urge you to reconsider. The argument that the candidates are “equally bad” is ridiculous if you take their policy positions at face value and compare them to those of Sanders to see which most closely aligns with his views. It is essential to understand that as individuals and as a voting bloc, our vote has impact. If a third party candidate best aligns with your policy preferences, then cast your ballot in that manner. But don’t give in to the ‘protest vote’ notion – there are more effective ways to have your voice heard. In an election where one candidate is absolutely unqualified to govern, the results may be disastrous.