Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Are Third Party Candidates Spoilers? Maybe


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If Jill Stein wasn't in the race, Hillary would have won a few swing states and the outcome of the election may have been different.   However, if Gary Johnson wasn't running, Donald Trump would arguably have had an even bigger lead.


Are third party candidates just spoilers or what?   It is easy to think so - I know I did.   If even half the folks who voted for Ralph Nader in Florida voted for Al Gore instead, George W. Bush would never have been President.

But that argument assumes that the Nader voters would have looked at Gore as the "next best thing" to Nader.  It also assumes that the Nader voters would have bothered to vote if Nader wasn't running.   Both can be false assumptions.

Third party candidates can be spoilers, but are not always necessarily so.   Ross Perot siphoned off enough Bush votes to put Bill Clinton in office, that much is clear.   And there was, of course, no way Perot would have ever won.   And Perot appealed to the same side of the political spectrum as Bush did.

This time around it was more complicated.   Jill Stein, the "green" party candidate, garnered hardly any votes - maybe 1% at most.  But 1% can make a big difference, of course, in races decided by a handful of votes.

In Michigan, for example, where votes are still being counted, Trump was ahead by little over 12,000 votes.   Stein garnered 50,000.   Michigan might have gone for Hillary if Stein voters switched their allegiance to Clinton.  And let's face it, who is the more "green" candidate - Hillary or Trump?

But of course, there was another 3rd party "spoiler" - Libertarian Gary Johnson, who garnered 4% of the vote there, or about 170,000 votes.   If they had all gone for Trump, the Stein votes would be meaningless.

But would they have?  Gone for Trump that is.   I have a friend in Virginia who voted for Johnson, despite the fact Johnson didn't know what "An Alleppo" was.   My friend said he didn't like Trump and wanted Hillary to win, but wanted to "send a message" about his discontent.

The protest vote - the province of idiots.   And yet, in many parts of the world, people vote this way.   In some countries, people refuse to vote at all or parties withdraw from the process in "protest" of the election.   So of course, they lose, which maybe was inevitable anyway - but by withdrawing, no one would ever know for sure, which allows them to claim that "they would have won, but for...."

Of course, this raises the question, should we have more than two main political parties?  Many folks, including our friends overseas, decry our two-party system as unworkable.  But the alternative is often chaos.   When you have a three, four, or five party system, no one party has a majority.   And often multi-party elections like this allow a minority candidate - often an odious one - to achieve power.   Three or four-way races are often how dictators get elected.   And they do get elected, usually the first time around.  The second time, well, there is no election.

Or you end up with a joke party gaining power because of "protest" votes.   The "Pirate Party" started out as a lark, and then people started taking it seriously.  I am not sure the elected members know what to do at this point.

If you go back into the history of the US, though, we did have other parties at one time or another.   Lincoln started out as a Whig.  The Whig party fell from favor, however, as it became divided over the issue of slavery (race relations seem to define us).   From the ashes of the Whig party came the Republican party, and for a brief time, the two co-existed, along with the Democratic Party and something called the "Know-Nothings" which sounds like a party that would be wildly popular today.  Eventually, though, the country divided along Democratic and Republican lines.   And we fought a bloody civil war over it, too.  Bloodiest war in our nation's history.

Teddy Roosevelt started the "Bull Moose" party to get back into the White House, after he split with his protégé, Howard Taft.   The effort failed, and the resulting split in votes between Roosevelt and Taft allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the White House - a classic scenario of the "spoiler".

Of course, spoilers are only a problem when they spoil your candidate's chances.   Many hoped that Gary Johnson would siphon off enough Trump votes to allow Hillary to win.   And before he was nominated, many felt that Trump himself would be the spoiler, running as an independent, to GOP candidate Cruz (or whoever).   Of course, that didn't quite work out that way.

As I have noted before in this blog, political maturity means voting for the candidate who best represents your interests and also has a possible chance of winning.   Voting for 3rd party candidates, particularly when they are whack-jobs (Perot, Nader, Stein, Johnson) to "make a statement" is just being naive.   You can't expect a candidate to mirror all of your opinions exactly - unless you are the one running.  Pick the best of the two options and hope for the best.   Voting for third-party candidates is just dumb.

But I suppose we all do it at one time or another.  In 1980, in my first Presidential election, I voted for Bill Anderson.   It didn't make much of a difference.   The Anderson votes, even if added to the Carter votes, wouldn't have stopped Ronald Reagan from becoming President.

But since then, I have matured, well, a little bit anyway.  And I realized that voting for 3rd party candidates is just a waste of time - often a dangerous waste of time.

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