Let’s (Third) Party

A friend of mine has a dog I call Chad because he always hangs around me. Remember the “hanging chad” dispute over the 2000 election results in Florida and Bush v. Gore? And how Democrats and the press heaped so much blame on poor Ralph Nader as to almost suffocate him? All that demonizing dealt a blow to third-party politics that it has yet to recover from. And that’s a pity, because we desperately need to upgrade our putative two-party system’s software.

Before we move on to the current electoral crisis, what about Florida in 2000? Didn’t Nader’s 2.5% Green Party share nail the election for Bush? Even if you assume that a statewide recount that included all disputed ballots would have come out narrowly for Bush, as factcheck.org concludes, the focus on Florida misses the big picture. Let’s face it; Al Gore ran a lackluster campaign. He backpedaled, issuing hardly a peep about the love of his life, climate change. He inspired so insipidly that he even lost Tennessee—his home state—which would have taken him to victory. Yet he still piled up more popular votes (50,999,897 – 48.38%) than Bush (50,456,002 – 47.87%). You could just as easily say the Electoral College stole the election as Ralph Nader did.

Ever since I started making noises about supporting presumptive Green Party candidate Jill Stein for president lots of people tell me a vote for her is a vote for Trump. Every one of those people has abiding antipathy toward that man. Most of them seem lukewarm at best about Hillary Clinton. No surprise; they’re the most unpopular presidential candidates ever, tied at a 37% favorability rating in a July 2016 Gallup poll (negative sentiments toward politicians have been steadily rising for two generations).

But what if the anti-Trumpists are right? Could Jill spoil everything? Here’s what two questions a Quinnipiac poll asked of voters in three key swing states In mid July tell us:

1. If the election for President were being held today, and the candidates were Hillary Clinton the Democrat and Donald Trump the Republican, for whom would you vote?

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2. If the election for President were being held today, and the candidates were Hillary Clinton the Democrat, Donald Trump the Republican, Gary Johnson the Libertarian, and Jill Stein the Green party candidate, for whom would you vote?

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Before deconstructing these numbers, be advised that they could be an aberration and will likely change the next time they are compiled. That said, let’s see what they reveal.

The undecided pegged at about 8% regardless of who’s running. However, the number of people who would not vote drops by two percent (four in PA). With third parties on the ballot, Clinton loses 3, 5, and 7 percentage points (FL, OH, PA, respectively), while Trump loses 2, 4, and 3 points, respectively. Those who would not vote for any of the above come out to 11, 10, and 11 percent (FL, OH, PA, respectively) for a two-way race and 5, 5, and 6 percent, respectively, in the four-way race.

*These numbers indicate that when third parties appear the ballot, several things happen:

*The margins of victory widen but don’t flip; Trump’s existing lead over Clinton basically doubles.

*More people participate; the none-of-the-above numbers get cut in half

Third parties become more salient than ever; they would garner 13% of the vote

The results indicate that Gary Johnson would out-poll Jill Stein almost two-to-one, yet more respondents would abandon Hillary than would desert Trump, implying that is a fair number of Democratic voters in those states would go Libertarian rather than Green. That surprises me, but there it is. The results are probably skewed by the fact that Johnson has received far more media coverage than Stein, and Mitt Romney has now endorsed him, for whatever that’s worth.

Given the anti-progressive bent of mainstream media, nationwide I expect Libertarians to do relatively well compared to the Greens, perhaps two-to-four times as well. So, if Trump wins in November, should we blame Gary Johnson?

I don’t think so. After all, Hillary’s numbers have been tumbling as Trump’s ascend. The blame should rest squarely on Hillary Clinton and her partner-in-crime, the Democratic National Committee. But there are still a lot of people out there who will say it’s the fault of third parties for wanting something they can’t have.

But Democratic and Republican voters, too, want something they can’t have: a functioning democracy. They won’t have that no matter who wins, and they can’t blame it on Gary or Jill.

Barring unpleasant political surprises, it’s hard for me to believe Trump will emerge on top of anything but his ego in November. The media and the chattering class, not to mention GOP leaders and their think tanks, are almost uniformly down on him. Tell me, please, when was the last time that our elites failed to fix a national election? Now that the choices are clear-cut, the smart money from financial circles and others with deep pockets is flooding into Hillary’s purse. There aren’t enough angry white men to make a difference. Angry people of color of both sexes will likely cancel their votes anyway.

Still, if enough registered voters stay home through disgust, lack of interest, or prefer none of the above, the slices taken by third parties could flip some outcomes in winner-take-all states. That’s what makes anti-Trump (it would be charitable to call them pro-Hillary) people lose sleep, and it explains some of the negative reactions I’ve gotten when I talk up Jill Stein. But even if Trump somehow were to win, it still wouldn’t be her fault. Or Gary Johnson’s. It will be the doing of the one white-collar-crime ring that rules us all.

Extra Credit

Geoff Dutton is a reformed geek turned columnist, novelist, and publisher hailing from Boston who writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Turkey Shoot, his novel interrogating the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, recently received an award for Courage in Fiction. You can find more of his writing here and at Progressive Pilgrim Review. He welcomes correspondence at geoff-at-perfidy-dot-press.