If you live in a swing state, what I'm about to say may not apply as much to your situation. But for me personally . . . I have never seen any sense in pretending that the votes I cast in presidential elections are going to make any difference in terms of who becomes president that year. The number of people I would have to persuade to change their votes to hand over California's 55 electoral college votes to anyone other than the Democrats is ridiculous. Don't get me wrong, though - I believe it's very important to vote. Voting makes a real difference in people's lives. If more good people in California had bothered to show up to cast votes against Prop 8 in 2008, thousands of couples would have been married years earlier. They couldn't be, just because too many voters failed to go fill in one little bubble on their behalf. But the votes you cast that are most likely to make a real difference are the local ones - for mayor, for city council, for or against local ballot measures, that kind of thing. State-level elections are harder to swing, and in national-level elections, Californians have hardly any voice at all. We only get two senators to represent our 38 million people, just like Wyoming gets to represent its fewer than 600,000 people, and our lack of senators results in a lack of electoral votes as well, and since our electoral votes are awarded in winner-takes-all manner, it's been 28 years since our electoral votes last failed to go to the Democrats. (George H. W. Bush won California in 1988. California had been solidly Republican for a while before that, but demographics and political parties have changed, and we're not at all likely to go Republican again anytime soon.)
So the most important thing I wish left-wing activists would focus on during election years is trying to persuade people to vote, rather than trying to persuade them to vote for any specific candidate. Feeling browbeaten and pressured to vote for a particular candidate can sometimes actively turn people against that candidate, but the message "We desperately need you to bother to vote!" tends to be received much more welcomingly than the message "We desperately need you to vote for this specific candidate!" And persuading more people to vote tends to strongly favor left-wing candidates and left-wing causes all up and down the ballot.
And this is a big part of the value in having third-party candidates on the ballot. Many people, unfortunately, will not bother showing up to vote if there's no one on the ballot that they're comfortable voting for in a prominent race such as the presidential one. Many people pay very little attention to the races further down the ballot, and simply say to themselves that if the choice is between two presidential candidates they hate, then they'll stay home. Giving these people additional choices, even if those choices have no real chance of winning, can help persuade them to bother going to the polls - simply to "send a message," because having a candidate in the race whom they can express agreement with lets them feel able to send the message they want to send. So having third parties on the ballot, especially left-wing third parties, tends to benefit Democrats in down-ballot races by helping bring more left-wing voters to the polls. And down-ballot races are the ones most easily swung.
This is why I'm a registered third-party voter. I was a registered Democrat when I cast my vote for Marsha Feinland of the Peace and Freedom Party against Bill Clinton in 1996. In 1998, the Peace and Freedom Party was removed from the California ballot - the only state whose ballot it had been on to begin with - because its gubernatorial candidate that year didn't receive the number of votes that the Democratic-controlled California state legislature had decided to require third-party candidates to receive for their parties to remain on the ballot. For the party to get back on the ballot, it needed to obtain a minimum number of voters registered as being affiliated with it. I changed my party registration to Peace and Freedom to help the party get back on the ballot, and the party was restored to the California ballot in 2003.
I have never been a fan of the Clintons. I didn't like Bill Clinton in 1992 because he was a philanderer and a centrist, but I was too young to be eligible to vote against him then. In 1996 I was struggling with the question of whether or not I could stand to vote for him when he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, thereby ensuring that I will hate his guts for the rest of my life. (Hillary Clinton could have dissociated herself better in my mind from her husband's actions on this issue if she had "evolved" more quickly on marriage equality, but instead she was among the slowest prominent Democratic national politicians to "evolve," and Bill Clinton has been quoted as saying, when he was president, that he thought she was homophobic, which certainly did her no favors in my book.) In his second term, Bill Clinton continued making me angrier and angrier at him; the "welfare reform" he was proud of achieving was pure Republicanism with a sticker labeled "Democrat" stuck unconvincingly on top. As for Hillary Clinton, I never had anything against her personally when she was first lady. But when she became a senator, she was one of the very large number of Democrats in Congress who voted in 2002 to authorize George W. Bush to invade Iraq. On the day of that vote, I immediately vowed never again to vote for any of those Democrats for any office ever again, because the vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq was the most transparently stupid and evil and utterly unjustifiable Congressional vote I'd ever seen. And in the 14 years since then, I've stood by that vow. I had always voted for Senator Dianne Feinstein until she voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, but I never voted for again after that. I voted third party against John Kerry (for Leonard Peltier of the Peace and Freedom Party) in 2004 because John Kerry had voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq.
So if this were even remotely close to a normal election year, I would be perfectly primed for voting third-party against Hillary Clinton. And I don't feel there's any especially compelling reason not to do so - I have no illusion that my vote as a Californian is going to make any difference in who becomes president. I will cast my vote in the presidential election purely to send a message. Yet I'm feeling that I'm more and more likely to break that vow I made in 2002 and actually vote for Hillary Clinton this year, simply because there are so many competing messages associated with the candidates this year that I think voting third party this year would tend to lend itself to drastic misinterpretation of my intended message.
Frankly, I'm not sure what a lot of this year's "Bernie or Bust" contingent really stands for. I'm sure there's some legitimate feeling of wariness of Hillary Clinton because of her vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, and I share that sentiment. I'm sure there's also some debatably somewhat legitimate wariness of Hillary Clinton because of her husband's Republican-like policies as president; I rate this as "debatably somewhat legitimate" because, although I do think it says something that she's married to the guy, I'm not at all sure - being the daughter, myself, of a Democrat happily married to a Republican - that it says all that much. People can be married to one another, even quite happily married to one another, and still each have their own quite distinct individual views on political issues; I think there's a sexist tendency to assume women's political views must be identical to their husbands', and I think Hillary suffers somewhat in the esteem of many left-wing voters due to this sexist assumption. I also think there's some completely illegitimate and blatantly sexist panic going on in which Hillary Clinton is being falsely painted as having emotional problems simply because the sexist stereotype of women in our culture is that women are somehow emotionally out of control.
On Facebook this year I've seen numerous people accusing Hillary Clinton of being a sociopath, a narcissist, an egomaniac, a pathological liar . . . I don't understand this. She is a politician, so naturally she seeks political office, promotes her qualifications for that office, and engages in some degree of political machinations and manipulations. But I don't see how she's in any way more extreme about this than any other national-level politician. I have some very strong disagreements with her about policy, but as for her sanity and emotional stability, I think I've never seen any comparably prominent politician whose sanity or emotional stability could ever exceed hers. If you want to accuse a Clinton of being a narcissist, you should be accusing Bill. Narcissism is strongly correlated with cheating on one's partner; it is not at all correlated with putting up with being cheated on by one's partner. The same goes for sociopathy. That right there is pretty strong evidence that whatever else Hillary Clinton may be, she is not a narcissist or a sociopath. And I simply don't see any evidence for egomania in her. She wants the job of president and promotes herself accordingly, but the same has been true of every presidential candidate ever. This isn't egomania; it's the same thing you do when you want a job and you have relevant qualifications and so you list those qualifications and try to explain to the job interviewer why you're the best candidate for the job.
What I want to know is why there was no loud, angry, "Howard Dean or Bust" contingent in 2004 comparable to the loud, angry "Bernie or Bust" contingent this year. And why there was no loud, angry, "Jerry Brown or Bust" contingent in 1992, and no halfway meaningful primary challenger at all to Bill Clinton in 1996. How were John Kerry or Bill Clinton any less disappointingly right-wing than Hillary Clinton is? I completely acknowledge that Hillary Clinton is disappointingly right-wing, but John Kerry and Bill Clinton were even worse! And though so many people seem loath to admit it, there is some value in the fact that at least we got a woman as our disappointingly right-wing candidate this time around. I'd definitely have vastly preferred a different woman (you know, the one with the initials E. W.), but the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman does in fact count for something. Her being female will have an impact on the culture. For the better. It's not everything, but it's something.
I definitely feel that a substantial portion of the resistance to Hillary Clinton is motivated by sexism, even though, simultaneously, I also definitely feel that there are some very good reasons to feel resistance to Hillary Clinton.
When I've voted third party in the past, it's been with the hope that some Democratic strategist somewhere would look at the election results and see that the Democratic Party lost some voters to a further-left candidate and recognize that they might regain those voters by moving further left themselves. This year, though, I'm not feeling confident that the Democratic Party's strategists will necessarily infer that from votes cast for left-wing third parties. I think they might at least as accurately infer that the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman is what's scaring most of the third-party voters away from her. And the other thing is that the Democratic Party isn't the only party that can be sent a message here, and they're not necessarily the party most severely in need of a message this year. The Republican Party has this year nominated a significantly more blatantly racist and misogynist and all-around despicable candidate than they've ever managed to before - a con man and promulgator of racist "birther" conspiracy theories who is slow to disavow endorsements from the Ku Klux Klan and regularly retweets posts by members of known hate groups. There are two different messages the Republican Party could potentially learn from this year's presidential election results: that choosing such a person will cost them the election in a landslide or that choosing such a person is a viable option that might be worth trying again in future years. They might choose to learn the latter lesson even if Trump loses, as long as the race is close enough. And by "close enough," I mean the number of votes for Trump versus the number of votes for Clinton - because those are the numbers the Republican Party is likely to look longest and hardest at. So, in full recognition that my vote in the presidential election will serve simply to send a message, and despite the fact that I'm not thrilled at the idea of having to let either one of the Clintons anywhere near the White House again, I'm feeling like, this year, the message I want to send is likely to be best sent via a vote for Hillary Clinton.
And if, unlike me, you live in a swing state, and your vote might have some potential to do more than just send a message, don't forget that the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court depends on this election. This is the first time in my lifetime that we've had a chance to reverse the conservative tilt of the U.S. Supreme Court, and I'm 40 years old. Whatever happens this time around, there might not be another such chance in our lifetimes.
Mostly, though, just please bother to vote. For whoever. Going to the polls is an improvement over not going to the polls.