Robert Sarvis

This One Goes Out to All Those Folks Still Blaming Ralph Nader for Al Gore's Loss in 2000

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I'm still seeing conservatives and Republicans bitching and moaning that the Libertarian Party candidate in the Virginia governor's race, Robert Sarvis, somehow threw the election to the awful Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe. Fact is that exit polls from both CNN and ABC News confirm that Sarvis took votes from McAuliffe and put the race within reach of the Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli.

But more to the point, trying to fix blame on minor parties when major-party candidates lose is a category error. Dems and Reps don't "own" votes that are somehow stolen by third-party types. And as I wrote earlier this week at Time.com there's this:

Americans have come to expect if not demand a wide range of increasingly diverse and personalized choices in every part of our lives, from coffee shops to clothing stores to bookstores. And yet in something as important as politics, we allow the two major parties to systematically rig the system to exclude a range of opinions extending beyond two parties that were founded before the Civil War. Is it any wonder that a record number of Americans now call themselves political independents?

Reflexively blaming third-party candidates when a Republican or Democratic candidate loses only adds insult to that injury. Despite having every advantage going in, Al Gore ended up losing in 2000 because, among other things, he wore bizarre orange makeup to one of the presidential debates and came across as an environmental zealot fundamentally at odds with modern industrial technology. Ken Cuccinelli lost because, among other things, he failed to assuage fears that he would bring back sodomy laws, alienated single women, and he had no connection with young voters.

The major parties already enjoy vast advantages in terms of money, brand recognition, ballot access, and get-out-the-vote operations. When their candidates lose elections, especially tight ones, they would do better to look at what they did wrong rather than off-loading responsibility or blame on third parties who give voters more options to express themselves.

Whole thing.