I've got a new column up at Time.com. Here's the opening:
Even before yesterday's election, Republicans were ready to blame Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli's looming defeat to Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis. "A Vote for Sarvis is a Vote for McAuliffe" argued one Cuccinelli supporter.
With the final count in, expect Republican anger at the Libertarian "spoiler" to grow exponentially. McAuliffe, who had enjoyed a double-digit lead at various points in during campaign, won with just 48 percent of the vote to Cuccinelli's 46 percent. The Libertarian Sarvis ended up pulling almost 7 percent, far more than enough to tip the election the other way.
But to blame a major-party loss on third-party candidates is fundamentally mistaken. First off, it ignores data that the Libertarian pulled more votes from the Democratic candidate than he did from the Republican one—an exit poll of Sarvis voters showed that they would have voted for McAuliffe by a two-to-one margin over Cucinelli. Second, and far more important, it presumes that all potential votes somehow really "belong" to either Democrats or Republicans. That's simply wrong and it does a real disservice to American politics.