Privilege: Many Jill Stein Voters Have It, and Many Hillary Clinton Voters Do, Too

As an outspoken supporter of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, I often get questions akin to the one Stein was asked at the Green Town Hall on August 17: “Given the way our political system works, effectively you could help Donald Trump like Ralph Nader helped George Bush in 2000.  How could you sleep at night?”  More often than not, such questions are followed by the claim that voting for Stein in November is an act of self-indulgent privilege.  Only those with little to lose from a Donald Trump presidency can afford to risk it by adhering to a rigid set of principles that will never come to fruition, third-party critics argue; people who might suffer under Trump’s policies, on the other hand, understand the stakes involved in this election and that Hillary Clinton is the only practical alternative to Trump.

This formulation misconstrues privilege dynamics and misrepresents the identities and considerations of third-party voters and others who refuse to support Clinton, who are far less often White, affluent, heterosexual men than their detractors seem to believe.

The status quo is serving many people poorly.  Proclaiming that, because the alternative is “worse,” everyone must vote for Clinton – a politician who has championed policies that have actively harmed millions of people both here and around the world – is, at its very best, patronizing to those who are currently suffering.  It’s a promise of crumbs instead of a meal with the admonition that starving people better be thankful for crumbs, as the other candidate might take even those away.

This rationale plays on the fears of disadvantaged people and those who care about them in order to perpetuate current power dynamics.  Its use is in many ways an expression of the very privilege it critiques.

Third-Party Critics Misconstrue Privilege Dynamics

Privilege is a multi-dimensional concept, and very few people can claim to speak for the most downtrodden in society.  Individuals writing widely read articles about the privilege of third-party voters aren’t refugees from Central America who President Obama is currently deportingwith Clinton’s support, until recently.  They aren’t incarcerated for marijuana possession or sitting on death row, likely to stay locked up or sentenced to die if Clinton becomes president.  They aren’t living under Israeli occupation, or in deep poverty, or afraid of being obliterated by a drone strike, with little hope for change under the specter of a Clinton presidency.  As Morgana Visser recently noted, “many marginalized people are rightfully horrified of Hillary Clinton,” and those accusing nonvoters and third-party voters of privileged indifference to the plight of others have the privilege themselves not to be so marginalized that four, or eight, or indefinitely many more years of incremental change to the status quo is intolerable to them.

The thing is, the argument that the Democrats are the only actual alternative voters have to Trump – that the status quo cannot be radically improved and that incremental change is all that is possible – is one that many people cannot afford.  Those of us voting for Stein seek to challenge this thinking, to fight for a world in which the most marginalized people are not consigned to deportation, lifetime imprisonment, poverty, or death at the hands of Democrats who are better than Republicans but not nearly good enough.  Third-party voting and abstaining from the presidential election altogether are strategies designed to either change the Democratic Party or create an alternative in a political system that has failed disadvantaged populations for decades, as Sebastian Castro points out.

It’s perfectly fine to challenge the efficacy of that strategy, and I encourage everyone to read compelling cases for lesser-evilsism in 2016 from Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky and John Halle, Shaun King, and Adolph Reed.  I evaluate the risks of Trump relative to Clinton and a lesser-of-evils vote relative to third-party voting differently than they do, but I also have a ton of respect for where they and other social justice advocates like them are coming from.

It is wrong, however, for anyone to wield accusations of privilege as a cudgel against those with different electoral strategies, especially because this tactic ignores the voices of Michelle Alexander, Cate Carrejo, Rosa Clemente, Andrea Mérida Cuéllar, Benjamin Dixon, Eddie Glaude, Marc Lamont Hill, Jenn Jackson, Rania Khalek, Arielle Newton, Kwame Rose, Kshama Sawant, Cornel West, and numerous other members of marginalized groups who support alternatives to the Democratic Party and/or believe it’s fine not to vote at all.

Those who prioritize identity politics should also remember that prominent spokespeople for the Green Party (including Clemente and Cuéllar) tend to be less privileged than their Democratic Party counterparts, that a woman has been on the Greens’ presidential ticket every single year in which the party has launched a bid for the White House (beginning in 1996), and that the party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates this year – Stein and Ajamu Baraka – are by far the least privileged candidates running.

Third-Party Critics Misrepresent Voter Demographics

Statistics on Green Party voters in the United States are hard to find, but it’s possible to back out some rough estimates from recent polling.  The graph below uses data from four different polls to compare demographic shares among registered Clinton supporters, registered Stein supporters, and all registered voters.


The estimates debunk the notion that Stein’s base is especially privileged.  Her supporters are about as likely as Clinton’s to be women and seem to be a little less likely than Clinton voters to make over $50,000 a year or to have the privilege of a college degree.  The confidence intervals on these estimates are likely fairly large and the average differences between the candidates’ supporters in these domains, if there are any, are thus probably small, but other evidence also suggests that Green Party voters tend to have low incomes; as Carl Beijer has observed, Ralph “Nader had a stronger 2000 performance among voters making less than $15,000 a year than he had with any other income demographic.”

Beijer also makes an important point about the domain in which Stein and Clinton supporters differ most: age.  While age-based privilege is a complicated concept – both young and old people can be targets of discrimination – younger voters have to worry much more than older voters about “what happens over the span of decades if [they] keep voting for increasingly right-wing Democrats.”

Now, to be fair, Clinton voters are more likely than Stein voters to be people of color.  But Stein’s share of voters of color is similar to the share in the general population of registered voters; Stein voters are not disproportionately White.  Looking at the total population that won’t vote for Clinton, which is a larger universe than the set of registered voters who support Stein, provides an even more striking rebuttal to the those-who-oppose-Clinton-are-White-male-Bernie-Bros narrative.  As Visser shows, Reuters data actually suggests that over 40 percent of people of color do not plan to vote for Clinton in 2016.  In fact, neither do over 45 percent of the LGBTIQ community, nor the majority of women, “marginalized religious folk,” and people making less than $50,000 a year.

None of those statistics change the fact that I, along with many Clinton supporters, am privileged enough to have little to lose from a Trump presidency.  But like nearly all Clinton supporters – and unlike the millions of people who, as Visser reminds us, “do not have the privilege of feeling or being any safer under Democrats [as] opposed to Republicans” – I have even less to fear from a Clinton win.  Pundits and partisans would do well to spend less time alleging that third-party voters don’t care about the disadvantaged and more time reflecting on why large numbers of people are much more worried than they are about the status quo.


Filed under 2016 Election, Philosophy, Sports, US Political System

24 responses to “Privilege: Many Jill Stein Voters Have It, and Many Hillary Clinton Voters Do, Too

  1. AvangionQ

    The only privilege that matters is that my vote is my own to give to the candidate that best represents me on the issues that represent my values …

    • Daniel Graham

      Ben Spielberg, the argument isn’t that Stein or any third-party voters are necessarily themselves privileged. The argument is that the decision to vote third party and ignore the unprecedented danger of Trump is itself a privileged decision regardless of the level of privilege of any individual who casts such a vote. It is a voting decision based on the privilege of irrationally ignoring mathematical and political reality.

      Stein can’t win. She doesn’t have the numbers. If she had the numbers, I’d go for her in a heartbeat. If a pollster asks me who I’m voting for, I’ll say Stein just to help raise her numbers toward perhaps reaching a viable level. But until that happens, you can’t ask voters to risk Trump this year as Nader voters in 2000 risked Bush. At the time of the election, Nader lacked the numbers and Nader voters knew or should’ve known that. They knew or should’ve known that voting Nader couldn’t possibly result in a Nader victory and could only electorally assist Bush.

      You also wrongly state that “younger voters have to worry much more than older voters about “what happens over the span of decades if [they] keep voting for increasingly right-wing Democrats,”” but this hasn’t happened in the last 25 years. In fact, Democrats have experienced a leftward shift since Bill Clinton that accelerated under Obama (,,, Democrats are moving in a progressive ideological direction, and continued electoral victories for them will continue that ideological trend. Voting HRC this year to ensure Trump’s defeat is the only way to stop the massive threat Trump presents and continue the ideological trend of Democrats moving left.

      • Thanks, Daniel, for the thoughts. But your first argument about privilege is actually what the first half of my piece is all about! One can just as easily argue that the view you’re espousing – that the “political reality” is one in which votes for third-party candidates are wasted – is privileged because it preserves the status quo. You and I disagree about whether third-party voting is a viable political strategy, and that’s fine, but that has nothing to do with privilege.

        On your second argument, I agree that Obama is to the Left of Bill Clinton overall, but he’s also to the Left of Hillary Clinton overall, so I’m not sure you’re right that her election would mean a shift further Left for the Democratic Party. Furthermore, I’d argue that we’re damning with faint praise here; the fact of the matter is that the Democrats are getting worse on some issues (civil liberties being a prominent example). By Obama’s own admission, you could argue that Richard Nixon was a more “liberal” president than he has been.

        I think it’s fair to note, as you do, that “increasingly right-wing Democrats” isn’t exactly the reality we’re dealing with. But I also think it’s important to recognize that lesser-of-evils voting comes with downsides, one of which is the loss of a lot of leverage for pulling the Democratic Party to the Left.

        Thanks again!


      • While I agree that Stein doesn’t have a chance in hell of winning, it’s always been my impression that winning the White House is not what her campaign is about. I have yet to meet an avid Stein supporter who actually believes she will take the presidency in November. Instead, all of the reasons they give for supporting her revolve around building a viable third party long term.

        Several states require political parties to field presidential contenders in order to qualify for downticket appearances, meaning Green party candidates cannot even participate at the local and state level in those places without Stein’s candidacy. Further, her running increases the party’s overall visibility and boosts smaller Greens’ chances of winning local and state positions.

        Remember that 13% of registered Democrats voted for George Bush in 2000 while Nader only pulled 4% of the independent vote. If just 1% of those Democrats had stuck with their own party, Bush would not have taken the electoral college. The people who directly vote for a candidate are always more responsible for that candidate’s success.

  2. Paige

    Thanks, Stanford educated white guy, for mansplaining the whole privilege thing to me.

    • L

      Interesting, I don’t think this article “mansplains” privilege. Instead, I think it seeks to challenge the way people have used language about privilege to shut down a conversation about third party voting and how people have misrepresented the data on Green and third party voters.

    • It’s great to see fools taking perfectly good terms like *mansplaining* and misusing them in order to not rethink their own b.s. assertions.

      • Hers may not have been the most eloquently or precisely made statement, but I understood it to mean someone with power speaking with some condescension to the powerless. I could be wrong, in speaking for her,but I felt the same way.

        • There’s nothing condescending in the author’s tone. You’re both reacting this way because neither of you like what he has to say, though he bent over backwards to be more polite to his opponents than I’d ever be. I despise guilt-tripping, especially from people who think they get to dissect and weaponize *my* privilege (real or fabricated), but never HRC’s.

          • I found the author to be condescending.I spoke up because Paige had a valid point, and I found your bullying namecalling uncalled for.
            I responded politely to you. It was my mistake to assume you had reason that could be appealed to.

  3. A Sad, Very Bad Article. Your stats and graphs are horrible, add all of your percentages up over 100% most over 150%!!! and If you want a better ‘Third Party’ Argument where is the Libertarian Party in you polls. Sorry but in the real world all Votes for ‘Third Party’ Candidates belong to ‘___’, is a false statement and false argument.

    • On the graph, Robert, the percentages don’t add to 100 percent because they aren’t supposed to. The categories shown are overlapping and the percentages are not of all voters in each category, but of all people voting for a particular candidate.

      Your other comments don’t make very much sense, so I’m not sure how to respond to them – sorry!


  4. Daniel Robinson

    This is chock-a-block with invalid counterarguments. One of the most egregious is the one where you admit the accusation that you are, in fact, “privileged enough to have little to lose from a Trump presidency” and then you try to exculpate yourself with something that at the first thought seemed to me like a silly switch of argument fallacy: “but I have even less to fear from a Clinton win [yet I’m still not voting for Clinton; therefore, I’m a principled voter: I don’t vote for bad candidates, whoever they may be.]” I thought to myself at first, the argument you wanted to counter with this article was not that Stein voters are unprincipled, but that Stein voters are privileged and so don’t care to sacrifice their principles in order to prevent the greater of two evils; don’t change the topic, sir. On the second thought, I realized that your Clinton bit is hardly a switch of argument, but something logically even worse, in fact, logically, The worst thing possible: it is the accusation itself! You are “fighting” the accusation with the very same accusation! Let me explain. When you argue, “OK, you got me, I’m privileged – I don’t have to fear Trump – but you can’t blame me, since I’m principled,” you are arguing, “OK, you got me, I’m privileged enough to refuse to give up my principles just so that the greater of two evils is prevented – being that even a Trump presidency wouldn’t really be all that bad for me – but you can’t blame me, since I refuse to give up my principles just so that the greater of two evils is prevented, which I can afford precisely because Trump wouldn’t really be all that bad for me.” In a word, you are arguing, “OK, you got me, I’m privileged, but you can’t blame, since I’m privileged.” Oh my God! Logic certainly is not your stock in trade. I now realize, maybe we shouldn’t call you on your want of morality (which the accusation of privilege has to do with), but on your want of intelligence.

    • I’m sorry, Daniel, but your comment is fairly incoherent. I think you may have had some trouble understanding the main argument in this piece, which is that third-party voting is no more about privilege than is voting for the Democratic Party’s nominee. If you are still confused after reading it again, please let me know!

      • Victoria J Chapman

        I’m not sure how the demographics here show Dr. Stein voters differ much from all voters. Other than being younger. Or how it demonstrates any distinction between privilege.
        . There’s no urgency or desperation in this discussion of privilege.
        I’m glad you’re privileged, you use your voice to empower others.
        I’m glad those advocating are likewise in a position to do so.
        I’m sure they worked hard and made sacrifices to be effective advocates.
        I understand sacrificing one’s personal gain for principles.
        But my experience, in decades of working with and being impoverished, is that people quickly dull that hunger, that sense of urgency, once they’ve escaped deprivation, and tasted security. Even the very best of them.
        It’s why Gandhi threw off his lawyer’s suit.

        Whether their Democratic counterparts are a bit more advantaged,seems of no real consequence. If you’re driving a Nissan, or a Lexus, you still have a car to drive.

        An interesting point about your assessment of younger and older voters.
        The difference is, younger voters will grow out of discrimination quickly enough,that gives them leverage and hope.
        And older voters will grow into deeper discrimination.
        Younger voters have the luxury of time in which to worry much more about voting for increasingly right leaning Democrats.
        They also don’t have memories of 3rd party votes on which to draw upon in weighing their decisions. Nor concern for how their vote might impact real life people today.
        I’m 55. Time won’t be so forgiving to me, if I vote for Dr.Stein.Because, you know, I’ll be dead and I won’t have decades of future worries to contemplate. I think having “much more to worry about”.is somewhat of an advantage over the alternative.(Death).So that characterization is…very odd.

        There are very real detrimental effects if that 3-4% margin tilts it out of the Dems presidential grasp.
        A minimum wage increase might lift out, or prevent incidences of countless chronic homelessness, HC would continue as HRC would veto (I hope) any bill.
        What little safety nets still in place might even expand.
        These are the minimal survival expectations.

        Long before I had anything to lose personally, though, I recognized that there are others who have much to lose. And I couldn’t ask them to take that risk so that I could stay principled.

        Change, is incremental in America, and few have the patience to stick with it to the end.

        As incoherent and needlessly insulting as Mr. Robinson’s comments were, he does have a nugget of truth there. He’s saying that you have, something of a luxury to be able to adhere to your principles if Trump becomes president because it wouldn’t really impact you personally.
        But that the sacrifice you might make, would be to prevent a greater evil for others by bending (principles) them. Perish the thought. But those are choices people make, that’s the political beast.
        Would you risk 10s of millions losing newly acquired HC to keep your principles? More than that, would you give up your own HC to keep them?

        So that’s way, there really is an ingrained element of privilege in the decision to vote third party.

        I do adore Dr.Stein. I also know human nature though, and I think it might be better for her own sanity and soul to stay fighting as she is.
        I think if by some miracle she became President in a month, in 10 years I may, or may not,recognize her.

        • Thanks for the comments, Victoria; I appreciate some of what you wrote, but there are two points you seem to be missing:

          1) My point about people who are suffering now is that many cannot afford the incremental change you wrote about; they need us to urgently demand fundamental change. You say the piece ignores “urgency” and “desperation,” but this point speaks to both of those things.

          2) Similarly, as I note in my last paragraph, I have the luxury to not have much to fear under either a Trump or a Clinton presidency. Many people don’t have that luxury. To the extent that voting can be an expression of privilege, many votes for Clinton thus fall into that category. For those of us who truly care about helping disadvantaged people, however, our voting choices are more a reflection of strategy than of privilege.

          • As one of those suffering now, I feel qualified to speak for myself, about myself. Your piece does not address WHY someone like me, who would suffer loss in real life if Trump became President, by losing the crumbs that are falling from HRC’s table, and suffer genuine deprivation, should take that risk in subordination to a long term strategy?

            I am less concerned with the loss of political leverage to pull the party left, than I am with how that strategy will NOT impact people you are helping in a detrimental way now.

            I don’t see where, exactly,this piece speaks to either urgency or desperation.
            Declaring it so is not compelling.
            I reject your premise that I need you to make demands for me, and so should sublimate my own very real and immediate needs (which you are advocating for?) in favor of supporting what you want for the future.
            I fully understand that this is a long term strategy. My point is, that having a strategy IS a privilege.

            Does it seem fair for you to ask me to sacrifice in real life, so that you can keep your principled position?
            Why should I, one of those who you truly want to help, vote third party?

            • I don’t really think you’re responding to my argument – privilege exists along a spectrum and one could easily argue that it takes privilege to tell others that they must accept Clinton because the alternative is worse. My point, again, is that lobbing accusations of privilege at people because you disagree with their electoral strategy is both logically flawed and counterproductive. I do not think “[you] need [me] to make demands for [you]” – I am simply advocating for what I think is most beneficial for the most oppressed people both here and abroad. I understand that you disagree with what I’m advocating.

              I’d encourage you to read Morgana Visser’s article ( and to check out this piece (, which outlines why I think we’d be better served by working together on the many issues I’m sure we agree about than by tearing down people who have different electoral strategies. Anyway, that’s it from me on this thread; have a good one!

              • I’m the last one to tell anyone to vote for Clinton. I’m very vocal in my critique of her. That’s a privilege I’m not exercising so I’m not sure what relevance it has here.

                I’m not lobbing an accusation at you about your privilege. Unless I misunderstood everything you’ve said, haven’t you owned your privilege?
                How can my thinking be flawed, when I am affirming what you’ve already defined for yourself?
                I’m not even disagreeing with your political strategy.
                I’m stating that I have different priorities.

                I also don’t know why you think I disagree with what you (and I have spent a lifetime) advocating for. Your understanding of my position is incorrect.

                My question has been, why should I vote against my own interests, which are immediate and detrimental, to vote third party?

                As I’ve stated, I don’t have the luxury of time for a long game.
                Ido feel that you are not advocating for people like me, but an abstract version that doesn’t speak or question the efficacy of your ministries.
                I didn’t come here to fight, but to be offered a compelling reason to push me over that tiny line TO vote for Dr. Stein. I do feel like you’re preaching to the choir here.
                I am that base that you say you’re advocating for, but I only feel facilely dismissed.
                I read Ms. Visser’s article. She never stated what specifically would endanger her,personally. I am giving concrete
                survival risks for myself. As a Muslim, I’ve been actively persecuted in several ways by both government and individuals, so I understand her concerns. Those weren’t enough to change my conscience either.
                But survival issues, food, HC, some financial assistance with my gas bill,these are bread and butter issues.
                So again, I ask to be compelled to sacrifice my own needs in support of other’s wants.
                I do feel, very dismissed.

  5. The way the election for President and Vice-President of the U.S. actually works, there are 50+1 ‘districts’ or ‘constituencies’, varying in geographical and population size, and electing varying numbers of Electors to the Electoral College which then actually elects the President and Vice-President.

    Therefore, for each voter, the election in November is necessarily only about the particular State (or D.C.) in which he/she will be voting. Taking the results of the last such election (in 2012) as the reasonable best available evidence of turnout and actual vote count split among on the one hand the two major parties and all other parties on the other, one can quite readily (if roughly) calculate the odds that one’s singular vote will “decide” which ticket wins the election there, and thereby (in the overwhelming majority of cases) get all the Electoral College votes from that State (or D.C.). One can then calculate the further odds that that result will decide which ticket actually wins the Electoral College vote.

    Anyone who actually bothers to do the above preliminary work will surely conclude that in most States (and D.C.), one’s singular vote for one of the two major party tickets is overwhelmingly likely to be wasted; without loss of generality, a singular vote for Trump/Pence or for Clinton/Kaine in e.g. Utah or California is extremely highly unlikely to ‘decide’ the outcome of the election in Utah or California.

    Therefore, unless one is actually and fully in favor and support of either Clinton/Kaine or Trump/Pence (in which case, all the odds and conditional probabilities become immaterial), a singular vote for either one of the two major party tickets would be a clear case of gratuitous action against one’s own preferences, philosophy, etc.

    Finally, a note on terminology: “Privilege” has a particular etymology; It doesn’t just mean “relative advantage”. People being able to think clearly, to become knowledgeable about the issues, the policy options, the actual record of the candidates, the actual political system, etc are not ‘privileged’ in the original sense of the term. And, in the final analysis, there is nothing to be ashamed of in choosing not to vote for a ‘ticket’ that does not, in any way, shape or form, represent one’s interests, preferences, outlooks on life, political ideology, views on the public interest, understanding and knowledge of the issues, etc. It is something to be proud of.

  6. Emily

    About the graph- do the ‘non-college degree’ and ‘income under 50k’ categories overlap with the age category? Just wondering if we’re looking at a bunch of college students who wouldn’t have income or degrees but could still be from rich families.

  7. The problem with Reed in particular, followed by some of the others, is that they refuse to act outside the duopoly. If they won’t vote Dem, then they simply will not vote. I considered writing in Soltystik/SPUSA here in Tex-ass in 2016 rather than Stein. I certainly take voting much more seriously than the Hillbot types claim I do — or than they actually do. I arguably take it more seriously than the Reeds of the world, too. (I’ve had other issues with Reed, mainly expressed in argument with his big water-carrier Doug Henwood, who is another one of the “ultimately duopoly only” types who talk better than they walk.)

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