I was really trying not to write a post about throwing your vote away by voting third party. I know that posts like that can come off as patronizing, and I do strongly believe that it is better to vote for a third party candidate than not vote at all. I told myself that I would be content writing about why those two candidates were just fundamentally unqualified to be president, instead of doing a post on why voting for a third party can ruin an election.
But Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have been so annoying that I feel compelled. What can I say, they brought this on themselves.
It's impossible to talk about third party spoilers without talking about Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate for president in 2000. For those too young to remember, George Bush won the state of Florida by 537 votes, giving him the electoral votes to win the presidency. Now, yes, there were Democrats who voted for Bush. And yes, if Gore had carried his home state of Tennessee, the Florida loss would not have been as much of a problem. And yes, Nader wasn't the only third party candidate running.
We're in the realm of speculative history now, but we can make some educated guesses. Exit polls on Nader voters vary. One analysis from the mid-2000s found that as many as 60% of Nader voters would have voted for Gore, had Nader not been on the ballot. More conservative estimates have found that, based on exit polls, 47% of Nader voters would have gone for Gore, 21% would have gone for Bush, and 32% would have stayed home. One scholar points to an exit poll from Florida that showed that 49% of Nader supporters would have voted for Bush, and 47% for Gore, but the accuracy of this poll is debatable, given how small the sample size is (only around 30 Nader voters were surveyed).
Interestingly, Florida does not have the distinction of being the closest state in 2000. That honor goes to a little known place called New Mexico, where Gore won by a hair with 366 more votes. How many votes did Ralph Nader get? Over 21,000. Now, in most states, the Nader vote did not matter. Had everyone who voted for Nader voted for Gore, Gore would not have won many more states.
We can't blame everything on Nader. But we can cast some of the blame for Gore's loss on Nader, and progressives who would have otherwise voted for Gore, but chose instead to pick a candidate they felt matched their ideology more. Good for them. I hope they are satisfied with their choices.
And now, to the voters in "safe" states like New York and California who feel their vote doesn't matter, so they can vote for Stein without fear or guilt. Is it highly unlikely that either state will flip to Republican in this election? Yes. Is it impossible? No.
Do you know who won New York in the 1984 election? Ronald Reagan. He won California too. And he won those two states in 1980 too. Now yes, many things have changed in 30 years, but there is nothing to say they won't change again. I know this sounds like a tinfoil hat conspiracy but this whole election has been full of ridiculous things, so it is not entirely inconceivable that certain "safe" states could flip if enough people, yes, throw their vote away on third party candidates.
There is too much at stake in this election to risk a repeat of 2000. The United States election system is not set up in such a way that will allow third party candidates to win in any meaningful way. If a third party wants to gain prominence, the best way to do it is to run candidates in local elections, and build a party structure from the ground up. Instead of threatening to hand the election to Trump by splitting the progressive vote between two unqualified candidates and Hillary Clinton, it would be more productive to get involved with the third party at the local level.
Why don't I hear about the Green Party in any local New York elections, but they seem to pop up every four years to try to ruin the presidential election? Why, out of 519,682 elected officials are only 145 Libertarians and only 100 are Greens? That's around .02% of elected officials across the country. Those aren't viable alternatives to the Democrat and Republican parties, those are flukes.
The third party revolution isn't going to happen overnight, and it sure isn't going to happen in this election, no matter how many votes Stein and Johnson win. And if you do vote third party, that's fine, but if Stein votes take enough votes from Hillary that she loses a key electoral state, and Trump becomes our president, you will have only yourselves to blame. Don't say I didn't warn you.