Monday, November 21, 2011

The Third Party Spoiler Argument

Every four years, progressives are urged to line up behind a Democratic candidate that may share some (but not all) of their ideals, because the Republican alternative is far worse. Naturally, these progressives are also urged not to vote for a progressive third party candidate that may align with most of their policy priorities, based on the "boogieman argument" that Ralph Nader spoiled the 2000 election for Al Gore (who wound up beating Bush by half a million votes, but lost the electoral count). I bothered to look at the state vote totals for the 2000 election again recently. Out of every state where Bush won the popular vote, there are only three where Gore would have won if he got some (and, in two cases, most) of Nader's votes: Iowa (2 electoral votes), New Hampshire (4 electoral votes) and most importantly Florida (25 electoral votes), where a few hundred Nader votes would have theoretically pushed Gore over the top for a nationwide electoral vote lead.

There are a few problems with this theory: (1) The Republicans are accused of widespread voter fraud in Florida in 2000, so it presumes the votes would ever be fairly counted in Gore's favor (2) It assumes that people who voted for Nader would ever vote for Gore, rather than stay home (or write in Nader or some third party's name). Considering all the accusations that flew around about voter irregularities, point number one is quite serious (plenty of Dems still argue that not only did the Supreme Court rob Gore, but there were loads of sheisty ballot fraud going on throughout Florida). Point two is just as significant: Gore got 49% of the vote in Florida and it's entirely possible that the votes he got are all that he could get (he was never considered the most charismatic candidate). Out of a population of 15 million total, roughly six million people voted in 2000. Assuming that some votes were lost to fraud, faulty machines, prior felony records leading to disenfranchisement, or lack of interest in politics generally, it's just as likely that the Nader voters might either stay at home or register a write-in protest vote as vote for Gore.

Did anyone ever bother to actually dig up an exit poll of 2000 election Nader voters in Florida to ask? Probably not. The New York Times ran a story that for some peculiar reason cited an exit poll of California Nader voters that said roughly half of them would have voted for Gore had Nader not been on the ballot (Gore won California handily). The writer in that same article acknowledges the veracity of a New Hampshire exit poll of Nader voters (cited therein by Nader) that indicated roughly half of them would have thrown their support behind Bush had Nader not been on the ballot. Surely someone did an exit poll on the 97,000 Nader voters in Florida, but The Times seemingly didn't bother to unearth it. Perhaps it's easier to just keep the Nader spoiler meme going than try to actually drum up empirical data.

side note 1: No one that I have been able to uncover has asked how many votes Buchanan siphoned from Bush on the right (and how he still beat Gore in the states where he did, despite the presence on Buchanan campaigning to the right of him).

side note 2: A blog entry that does not cite traditional sources claims that half of the registered Democratic voters in Florida did not vote at all, which would seem to indicate that Gore's real problem was his GOTV effort.

side note 3: Not enough Democratic pundits have criticized the Gore campaign decision to only seek recounts in certain counties instead of statewide. The crux of the US Supreme Court victory for Bush was that this selective re-counting violated his 14th Amendment rights, whereas seeking a statewide recount would not have been vulnerable to such an argument.

No comments: