As I am an advocate for third party involvement in elections, I am not fond of the “a vote for Cutler is a vote for…” conversation. There is, though, certainly tunnel-vision affected dishonesty about the defense of voting for Cutler in the instance of this election. Yes, we should have the opportunity to vote for the person that best represents the policies and ideas we stand for. We should not have to vote strategically and that we do feels gross and alienating. The reality, though, is that without a runoff mechanism, dancing around game theory and strategy is a reality of voting, which is why the GOP and related advocates are encourage voters to vote with their consciences (so long as it is for LePage or Cutler) and subsidizing advertisements on the candidate’s behalf. They realize that vote-splitting plays in their favor, as does favoring purist idealism over strategy, particularly in this instance. This is not simply a matter of fear, or being brave enough to vote for an “ideal” candidate, which are both narratives being perpetuated by the Cutler camp. If it was, the opposition would not be so enthusiastic about fortifying this split (which, if you consider the aggregate of poll data, is not really working in Cutler’s favor).
The Cutler narrative has relied on voters misremembering the candidate’s 2010 surge as something more meaningful than is was: a last minute abandonment of a poorly run campaign organized around an institution candidate (Mitchell) in an anti-institution year (the early days of the then-anti-insurgent tea party, which then had less of a partisan appeal than they do now). The harder they push it the more desperate it looks, and aggregate polling suggests that people aren’t buying it. Everything—the candidates, the landscape, the logistical realities—is very different than it was in 2010. The GOP is similarly invested in perpetuating this illusion to the point that there has, as mentioned above, been investment in promoting Cutler. They want voters to be “brave” and “conscience-directed” too, as long as it detracts from Michaud’s base of (seemingly unbudging) support.
Arguably, Ranked Choice Voting would help to curb these do-or-die, all or nothing duels that end up overwhelming the conversation with points about polls, logistics and game theory instead of a real exchange about issues. I was happy to read of the recent announcement about a citizen-initiated pursuit toward adopting this alternative system voting. (Those who wish to volunteer their time to that effort can sign up to do so here.) The “all or nothing” / “spoiler” reality not only splits the vote but the conversation as well, making it more about logistics than substance.
If Cutler does look at the aggregate polls instead of trying to promote and boost obvious outliers and he does decide to withdraw, he could put himself in a position to talk about how essential reform of our electoral system is. He could make the case that his good ideas, and a substantive conversation about Maine’s future, were just the latest of many casualties of the limitations of a process that favors two parties. If he stays in and if there is retrospective evidence that his doing so led to LePage’s re-election—as aggregate poll data suggests could be the case—it is hard to imagine that his involvement in that effort will resonate with or move the more than half of the electorate that hopes to see LePage go. It might be difficult to imagine that his involvement in that larger conversation would be seen as more than a grandiose expression of sour grapes.
As a commenter eloquently suggested, “It’s incredibly insulting to have it insinuated that your choice in a candidate is based entirely on your understanding of probability. I am voting my conscience when I vote for Michaud, you know.” Voting for whom you consider to be purest candidate is great, as many voters will be doing with very different candidates in mind. It is not, though, any braver than acknowledging that this split is being played by those for whom it is politically advantageous. There is a self-serving reason for the Cutler camp and the GOP to want you to believe the opposite to be true, though it is intellectually dishonest to suggest otherwise.
PHOTO CREDIT: The great Troy Bennett || Bangor Daily News