Joke candidates are an unfortunate side-effect of democracy. They’re entertaining to watch mainly because election cycles can be worrying and often depressing, and joke candidates are the opposite of that. At least they’re supposed to be, because nobody expects them to win or have a significant impact on national discourse. Donald Trump was considered to be a joke candidate, and yet, he’s currently the President of the United States, with his presidency and policies defining the Republican Party for the next decade at the least. Due to the inclusion of joke candidates in the democratic process, it gives the impression that all views have equal weight and are equally valid. There are many examples of why this is simply not true. If anything, joke candidates are simply a further reason as to why the democratic process does not always work.
Focusing in particular on the very strict two-party system in America, joke candidates do not really stand much of a chance, same as any other third-party candidates. For many people, any third-party candidate is pretty much considered to be a joke, mostly because of the extremist and frankly ridiculous views that they tend to represent. There are nuances in the first past the post system in Britain that make it arguably more amenable to multiple candidates than the American system. ‘Joke’ candidates seem to have just a good a chance as candidates from more ‘traditional’ political parties. Voting for candidates that are not from the mainstream parties seems to be more common than it is in the States. Although this has changed in recent years, voting for ‘joke’ candidates does not seem to have the same stigma of ‘throwing away your vote’ as it does in the States. Unless you vote Lib Dem.
It’s hard to determine what classifies as a joke candidate, since those that would be considered jokes are probably running seriously, and are considered serious by their supporters. As mentioned before, Donald Trump was considered to be a joke, but yet, as of this article, he is considered to be the most powerful person in the world. So, it is possible for seemingly joke candidates to become ‘serious’ politicians. Perception about whether or not these candidates could be considered jokes varies, because supposedly the people that voted them in considered them serious because usually if you consider someone to be a joke, you don’t tend to vote them into political office. But that’s just me. Joke candidates detract from the larger issues at stake, and this could be seen in all of the free media coverage that Trump received as networks routinely broadcasted whatever he had said or done that day. Moderates seem more likely to vote for a third party or joke candidate as a way to avoid voting for candidates they don’t necessarily like, but since their votes are the ones that usually decide an election, as we have seen, this can lead to candidates that are unsuitable being elected.
A word on the current American presidential playing field. Trump supporters will vote for Trump, no matter what he does, and this has been proven time and time again. Nobody particularly likes that Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee, but Democrats will vote for him just because he’s the Democratic nominee because their goal is to vote out Trump. The problem really is that moderates are more likely to vote for someone like Kanye West and a seemingly viable alternative is more likely to harm Biden’s chances of becoming president than Trump’s. What I don’t particularly understand is when people say that they don’t like Trump, but won’t vote for Biden who, let’s face it, is the only opposition candidate that has a chance against Trump. These people, by then saying that they would vote for a third-party candidate or write in someone else’s name or even simply not vote, are just handing Trump the election. It’s what happened in 2016, and unfortunately, is most likely going to happen again in November. The real problem is that people still think this coming election is about voting for a candidate you like and that has views that match yours rather than voting to keep someone out of the highest office there is, and really that is all democracy and elections have become.
There are a few joke candidates that will always have a special place in my heart; Lord Buckethead, the members of the Monster Raging Loony Party, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and of course anyone who runs for president against Putin. Joke candidates should not be treated like real politicians. Nobody expects them to win, and whilst they can be amusing, they are ultimately harmful in that they take away votes from candidates that could change things for the better. The inclusion of joke candidates in elections detract from the larger issues at stake, especially if those views are particularly controversial and well publicised in the media. Depending on the system, third party candidates do not particularly make sense, especially in the United States. They never do well, mostly because their views are pretty niche, and all they seem to do in the end is split the vote. At a time where every vote is important, voting for third party candidates means that someone like Trump has a better chance of being elected, and that is really the greatest tragedy of democracy.
[ Katerina Partolina Schwartz – she/her – @katpschwartz]
[Image Credit: Element5 Digital]