Jeffrey Yaw is 20 years old, lives in a conservative region within upstate New York, and calls himself “the religious extremist your parents warned you about.” He’s a converted Catholic who’s staunchly anti-abortion, but he also wishes for a pluralistic democracy with public services and a system that isn’t reliant on two political parties. I spoke with Yaw for Wednesday’s episode of What Next, as part of our First-Timers series about people finally hitting the voting booths, about what drove him to the polls in 2020 to cast his vote for a third party. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mary Harris: Are you excited to vote because this is your first presidential election?
Jeffrey Yaw: I’m not entirely sure. I don’t plan on voting for Biden, but, living in New York and with the Electoral College and everything, I know that if I’m not voting for Biden, it doesn’t really matter. I wouldn’t really say I’m excited to vote—it’s more just something I’m doing because I feel like I should.
It’s a duty.
That’s a good way to put it. I think that the biggest reason I’m voting is because if all of this goes down the crapper, I’d at least like to say I did it once.
I’m curious about your position for a lot of different reasons. One of the big ones is that you’ve come of age in the Trump era, with such an unusual presidency. I’m wondering how you’ve experienced it. It sounds like you’re a little bit uncomfortable with Trump as a person. Is that fair?
To put it lightly, yeah. I’m uncomfortable with a man who has several accusations of credible sexual assault, who’s been divorced several times, who’s said and supported terrible things about other people. Yeah, I’m a little uncomfortable with him.
Did you ever try to get into Trump as a candidate because he was elevating issues that were important to you?
In 2015–16, when all the debates and caucusing first started, I was huge on Trump because—think about it like this. Even then, I was big on the fact that this whole two-party system is stagnant and doesn’t really do all that much. I want an independent candidate. Then it happens, but in the worst way possible. I wanted somebody who was going to come in, shake up the two-party system. And Trump was an outsider candidate. But whew …
When did you change your mind? Was it when it was down to Trump and Clinton? Was it when Trump won?
It really started dawning on me when it was down to Trump and Clinton. I distinctly recall the thing about him mocking a disabled reporter on live television. I’m sitting there like, what the fuck? How do you say that about someone? It’s not the conduct anyone wants to see in a world leader, period.
You weren’t planning to vote in this election until a couple of months ago, right?
Right. I wasn’t planning on voting in the presidential election. I was planning on voting in local and state races.
Why were you planning to avoid it?
I have a huge gripe with the idea of voting against someone rather than voting for someone. And personally, I have enough issues with both candidates that I don’t really know I could support either of them wholeheartedly.
What are your issues?
So the big thing with me, as a Catholic, is abortion. I’m not going to go with the Democratic Party line on abortion. But at the same time, I also subscribe to the wild idea that maybe we shouldn’t let people go bankrupt because they get cancer or something. Or that we shouldn’t mistreat people at the border and displaced people in general.
Your third-party ticket is for Brian Carroll and Amar Patel of the American Solidarity Party, which is fiscally liberal and socially conservative—anti-abortion and pro–universal health care. Some people might say voting for those candidates is just throwing your vote away.
I think that I’m blessed that I live in a state where the outcome is already decided. So, I can vote for whomever I want, and it’s not going to change the outcome.
If you were in a swing state, would you do it differently?
I would consider it, but I can’t tell you what I would do, honestly. You hear a lot of things that you heard in 2016 too: “If you’re voting for third party, this isn’t the year to throw your vote away. This year you need to vote for whomever because the other person is so much worse.” I feel like we kind of hear that every year: “You can’t vote for a third party because this is the most important election ever.” Well, you said that for the last five election cycles. When can we finally vote third party? Can we have another option?
I don’t think that either of the parties actually want to change anything. I think they just want to keep getting elected and keep getting fat stacks from different lobbies.
What do you think that people don’t get about someone like you, a young conservative who has strong opinions about where they want the country to go?
Not to make myself look supercomplicated and big-brained here, but I guess that it’s all more nuanced than it seems. I’m for the whole idea of “Medicare for All”—you shouldn’t have to choose between getting treatment and eating dinner. I think that’s ridiculous. It’s a totally false choice. I think people at the border should be treated well. I also don’t like, you know, killing people for any reason.
I think what’s more important, at least from my point of view, is making things heard in other ways, going out to demonstrations and marches for what you believe in, like the March for Life or for Black Lives Matter or against the Dakota Access pipeline. I think actually going out and doing something and making your voice heard in any way, whether it’s going on a podcast or social media or anything like that—I think that matters more, in the end, than how you vote, because I think that has more of an impact on culture. And really, I think that’s what changes things more than any law ever could.