I was reading through an exit poll, and I found that only 3-4% of Black American voters voted 3rd party in the 2016 election. 6% of American voters voted 3rd party and polls indicate that that number was the same among white and Hispanic voters.

I feel that the turnout drop in 2016 was caused by not voting at all instead of voting 3rd party. It appears to have been for the same reason. I chose 2016 because that was when 3rd party candidates had their best performance.

This trend was evident in 2012 an election with about average third party support by looking at county level results in Alabama.

Macon County (80% African-American) gave 0.20% of the vote to third parties in the 2012 while Blount County (90% white) gave 1.46%. What explains this?

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    Because they're well aware that voting third party is a good way of ensuring that the candidate you like the least getting the seat, and unlike most white people they know what it's like to actually have their civil rights up for debate. Sep 19, 2020 at 12:21

1 Answer 1


In a 2 party system like the US, voting for a fringe candidate in a tight race is essentially handing your least-preferred alternative a free vote. For example, people voting for Ralph Nader in 2000 contributed to getting Bush elected (whether you consider Bush's win good or bad is irrelevant to my argument) especially in swing states like Florida.

People sitting in the middle who do not feel particularly bad about either main candidates (or who feel equally bad about both) can afford a rational choice to protest by voting for a 3rd party during a tight election.

Black Americans may, in 2016, have felt significantly more apprehensive about Trump's candidacy than Clinton's and voted accordingly.

Now, how that works wrt Electoral College mechanism in non-competitive states, as Alabama would have been in 2012, is harder to assess. It wasn't a tight race locally, so a protest vote wouldn't have mattered much, unlike in 2000 Florida.

But even a non-competitive State-level contest may still feel competitive if the race is close at a national level and may compel people not to "waste" their vote.

In any case, with Obama on the ticket, Black voters had an obvious reason to vote preferentially for one of the 2 main candidates, so neither 2008 or 2012 are particularly good elections to use to investigate your question.

Another possibility is that 3rd party campaigns, which typically have less resources and a narrower base, can't, or do not bother to, court minority votes sufficiently assiduously and thus mostly only get votes from the majority ethnic groups.

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    Also, people 'sitting in the middle' tend to be the ones who feel they have little of substance to lose regardless of the outcome. In the two-party system the US has, voting "For your principles" is a privilege, make no mistake about it. Sep 19, 2020 at 12:23

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