Election 2016

No, Ralph Nader Did Not Hand the 2000 Presidential Election to George W. Bush

More than 12 times as many Florida Democrats rejected Al Gore in favor of Bush than they did for Nader.

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It wasn't me.
Chris Kleponis/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

You may have heard that you're either a "ridiculous" Bernie Bro or some other form of privileged white dude unless you accept the prevailing theory among Hillary Clinton supporters that a vote for Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump, just the way a vote for Ralph Nader was a vote for George W. Bush in 2000.

There's no shortage of lamentations to be found on the interwebs from once-idealistic young liberals who have never forgiven themselves for voting their consciences at the turn of the millennium, and who won't forgive you if you choose to make the same mistake. There are a number of problems with that line of thought (the most obvious being that it assumes the votes of left-leaning voters are owed to the Democratic Party because every presidential election is the most important ever), but more importantly, it's simply not based in fact.

It is true that approximately 95,000 Florida ballots were cast for Nader in 2000, and assuming every single one of those votes went instead to then-Vice President Al Gore (which is an incorrect assumption, but we'll get to that later), Gore would have been easily able to supplant the 537 vote differential in the Sunshine State that gave Bush the presidency.

What that oft-cited factoid leaves out are the inconvenient truths laid out by Jim Hightower in Salon way back when, including the fact that only about 24,000 registered Democrats voted for Nader in Florida, whereas about 308,000 Democrats voted for (wait for it…) Bush! Further, approximately 191,000 self-identified "liberals" voted for Bush, as opposed to the fewer than 34,000 who went with Nader.

The conventional thinking goes like this: Nader voters lean left and Gore is to the left of Bush, therefore votes for Nader would have gone to Gore. But leftist academic Tim Wise pushed back on this summation in 2000, writing that "Exit polls in Florida, conducted by MSNBC show that Nader drew almost equally between Gore, Bush, and 'None of the above,' meaning his presence there may have been a total wash."

In 2006, Michael C. Herron and Jeffrey B. Lewis authored a UCLA study on the effect of third party voting on the 2000 election. Among their findings:

Only approximately 60% of Nader voters would have supported Al Gore in a Nader-less election. This percentage is much closer to 50% than it is to 100%. One might have conjectured, that is, that Nader voters were solid Democrats who in 2000 supported a candidate politically left of the actual Democratic candidate. This conjecture, we have shown, is wrong: Nader voters, what participating in non-presidential contests that were part of the 2000 general election, often voted for Republican candidates. Correspondingly, [Reform Party candidate Pat] Buchanan voters voted for down-ballot Democratic candidates. Thus, the notion that a left-leaning (right-leaning) third party presidential candidate by necessity steals votes from Democratic (Republican) candidates does not hold.

So why hasn't there been 16 years of hand-wringing over the thirteen percent of voting Florida Democrats going turncoat for the Republican nominee? What about the traditionally Democratic-voting bases of white women and seniors who both went for Bush, or lower-income voters, who mostly tilted for Gore but nearly forty percent of whom voted for Bush?

Why is Ralph Nader the boogeyman of the left and not Al Gore himself who (despite being a VP in a popular administration which had the dumb-luck of presiding over a booming economy) was unable to win his home state of Tennessee, a state with enough electoral votes to send him to the White House even without Florida?

Simple. Nader must be vilified because of the popular notion that the two major parties are entitled to your votes, and if you have any agency at all it's to prevent the more terrible of the two from taking the reins of power. That's how Gore, despite running an uninspiring campaign where he benched uber-campaigner Bill Clinton and chose the hawkish and moralistic Joe Lieberman as his running mate (thus turning off a great many off the liberals whose votes many feel were Gore's birthright as the Democratic nominee), gets let off the hook, as do the hundreds of thousands of Republican-voting Democrats (in Florida alone), while "Ralph Nader" becomes shorthand for the folly of idealism.

If Hillary Clinton loses the 2016 election to the odious Donald Trump, you can bet the blame will not fall on Clinton for failing to win over a portion of the left repelled by her record of censorship, failed military interventionism, drug prohibition, and crony capitalism, but rather it will fall on what Salon's Amanda Marcotte is already describing as the "attention-seeking dead-enders" or "Bernouts" who will vote for Jill Stein.

There's nothing wrong with holding your nose and voting for the candidate you believe has the best chance to defeat another candidate who you consider an existential threat to the country. There's also nothing wrong with refusing to confer legitimacy on a major party candidate you don't feel deserves it, even if you begrudgingly could live with that candidate over his/her opponent.

But it's also perfectly fine to reject the binary system which produced the two most disliked and distrusted presidential candidates in history, in the hopes that next time (and yes, there will be a next time) the concerns of voters who want no part of the Democratic and Republican standard-bearers will have a greater voice. Remember, no party has a right to your vote.

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  1. What do you want for nothing? Rubber chicken?

    1. Rich, the photo is of Ralph Nader “choking the chicken,” which is a well-known euphemism for masturbation. In essence, he is saying “oh, you blame me for Bush being elected? This is what I think of that.” I believe the alt text (which Fisher is sneakily good at), underscores that sentiment.

      1. Ralph Nader thinks you choke a chicken by grabbing its motherfucking leg(s)? I guess that explains his ineffectiveness.

        1. Ralph Nader thinks you choke a chicken by grabbing its motherfucking leg(s)?

          I know it’s kinky, but some guys seem to like it that way.

      2. Sorry, but masturbation euphemisms? Grow up, Reason.

        1. how dare they publish a humorous file photo of Nader! Politics is Serious Business, after all.

        2. Yeah,I never.

  2. Wait a minute, Fisher. Are you saying Tony was wrong in that one thread yesterday?

    Tony?

    Wrong?!?

    1. Tony and shriek hardest hit.

      1. One might hope.

    2. Tony never lets facts get in the way of his feelings.

      1. What facts? The lame point that Gore lost Tennessee, a very red state, thus Nader didn’t have any effect? Give me a fucking break.

        No mention of New Hampshire. Not once.

    3. Seriously. Tony made the ultimate defense of his position yesterday and you have the nerve to say he was wrong. Smdh

    4. How does this prove me wrong? It concludes some stuff (Nader didn’t spoil 2000) that it doesn’t provide evidence for. It implies a larger conclusion (third party candidates are never spoilers) that is wrong based on the simple math of a winner-take-all ballot.

      Why do people get so invested in denying this reality? Because their self-esteem really really depends on voting third party and feeling superior for it?

      1. For the same reason you are so invested in denying the reality that if you had a candidate with better appeal they would have won, I suppose.

        1. Given the closeness of the outcome, any number of small factors could have changed that election. One of those things was Nader being on the ballot. I don’t know why this is controversial.

          1. I guess this is part of the advantage to being a political party that isn’t all about personal responsibility: when you loose elections, it can be all someone else’s fault.

            Damn Nader. Ruined democracy.

          2. Yea, cause damn, people SHOULDN’T have choice! Nope, nosiree, its the main candidates or nothing! This is Democracy after all.

      2. How does this prove me wrong? It concludes some stuff (Nader didn’t spoil 2000) that it doesn’t provide evidence for. … Why do people get so invested in denying this reality?

        You’re not exactly proving your case with evidence, either.

        The idea of third party candidates as “spoilers” is question begging from the onset: you have to assume that “your” party “should” have won regardless of how people voting, such that people voting a certain way “screwed it up.”

        And, I’m sorry, but winner-take-all ballot math doesn’t making question begging an awesome argument.

  3. But Samantha Bee and Seth Meyers keep telling all Bernie bros to fall inline for the Hilldabeast. What do you mean she doesn’t have a right to our votes? IT’S HER TURN!

  4. Salon’s Amanda Marcotte is already describing as the “attention-seeking dead-enders” or “Bernouts” who will vote for Jill Stein.

    I will never understand people. They’re the worst.

    1. Your link has the ‘beetus, Crusty.

      1. Ugh. I’m just like people. Here.

    2. SF’d link or something more sinister?

    3. I’m surprised Marcotte stopped eating Zoe Quinn’s asshole long enough to write anything new….oh wait, I said new…I mean “Same stupid shit as always”.

  5. Hitlery and GayJay are professional politicians favored by establishment insiders. Trump and Stein are the outsiders.
    If you vote, vote for an outsider.

    1. You’re shilling for Stein now?

      1. Of course he is. I mean, he certainly wouldn’t shill for a eminent-domain-loving rent-seeker who poses for photos with powerful political dynasties and publicly brags about his intimate knowledge of The System.

        1. The years that have passed since that picture was taken have not been kind to any of the people in it.

      2. You’re shilling for Stein now?

        Expand the National Radio Quit Zone from sea to shining sea!

  6. I wish the Supreme Court had allowed the recount and Bush still won, just so we didn’t have to hear about this nonsense nonstop for the last 16 years. I’ve yet to see any rational argument for why Gore would have been any less disastrous than Bush. 9/11 still would have happened. Afghanistan still would have happened. Iraq might not have, but I’m sure we’d be bombing the hell out of somewhere for all 8 years nonetheless. (I also always wonder what would have happened if Saddam was still in power when Ahmadinejad was elected. That could have been nasty.)

    More importantly, Gore would have shut down fracking operations along with natural gas and oil exploration and extraction, which was pretty much single-handedly responsible for what mild economic recovery we had. The policies that led to the recession itself were all bipartisan policies that Gore would have done nothing to stop. Katrina would have happened exactly the same, too, since it was mostly local and state incompetence (Nagin’s still sitting in jail, by the way). Bush fucked up a lot, but Gore could very likely have been even worse.

    1. The problem with the “the Supreme Court had allowed the recount” scenario was that there never was a problem with an actual recount. What the Democrats wanted to do was find a way that they could make unmarked ballots into votes for Al Gore.

      As for what the consequences of a Gore victory in ’00, the only thing that might have turned out differently was that Gore probably would’ve bailed out Enron.

      “Candidate Gore” was a bigger hawk than “Candidate Bush” (who advocated a humble foreign policy) so it is quite likely that a “President Gore” would have gone on with the Iraq invasion plan that he and Mad Allbright went on the road to sell for Clinton in 98-99. Pretty much all of the justifications “W” used were inherited from the Clinton administration anyway.

      1. append to the first sentence above: “All of the recounts that were actually required by Florida election law were done except for those in Palm Beach (home of the “batterfly ballot”) and Broward Counties where local election officials delayed and vacillated over how to do a hand recount of punchcard ballots (something that was not provided for under state law*).

        *under state law law at the time, the way to recount punchcard ballots was to put them back into the counting machine and run the count again.

  7. So why hasn’t there been 16 years of hand-wringing over the thirteen percent of voting Florida Democrats going turncoat for the Republican nominee?

    It could also have something to do with the fact that deep down they know that there’s very little difference between the two parties.

  8. “You may have heard that you’re either a “ridiculous” Bernie Bro or some other form of privileged white dude unless you accept the prevailing theory among Hillary Clinton supporters that a vote for Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump.”

    But, I also keep hearing that a vote for Gary Johnson is a vote for Hilary. Which is it????? When I go vote for Johnson in November, who will actually get that vote; Clinton or Trump?

    1. When I go vote for Johnson in November, who will actually get that vote; Clinton or Trump?

      It depends, if your state’s SoS is a Republicunt, Trump*. If they’re a Democrap, Clinton.

      *Unless they’re a #NeverTrump-er, then it’ll probably go to Hillary or just end up in a dumpster somewhere.

      1. But remember: voter fraud is a myth.

        1. voter fraud is a myth. vote counting fraud is a reality that has nothing to do with voters.

    2. It’s basically Schrodinger’s vote. It is for both Trump and Clinton, and they can’t tell you which until they determine which one is worse. Then it’s that one.

    3. “You’re either with us or you’re against us.” The fact that both sides say that doesn’t make it less true, does it? But somehow I feel like I’m trapped in an M.C. Escher logic puzzle. I’ll still vote for who I want.

  9. Check out the promoted comment: someone’s still butthurt about the “confusing ballot” after all these years.

    1. He’s wrong. The claim at the time is that people who intended to vote for Gore voted for Pat Buchanan by mistake. But the Dems dropped that line after they realized that it made them sound like idiots.

      1. It’s also worth remembering (or knowing, since many people seemingly don’t) that the confusing “butterfly ballot” only existed in Palm Beach County which had a Democrat in the Supervisor of Elections seat.

        The myth than Katherine Harris (or anyone else) prevented recounts from being done is absurd. The responsibility for running elections and counting votes lies squarely with county Supervisors of Elections.

        All Harris said was that she would tabulate whatever vote totals that were submitted to her by the date required by state law as the final count for the state.

  10. Jesus, Anthony. We all hate Tony, but we don’t reduce him to ashes like this. Anyone got a broom?

  11. Even if the Nader vote did collectively flip the election, the vote of a particular Nader voter did not. Unless you’re going to attribute supernatural mind control powers to people, the decision of a single voter to vote or not vote for Nader has no effect on all of the other Nader voters.

    1. Ah so Bush was never president because all the individuals who voted for him didn’t individually have any effect. In fact, no one has ever been elected ever.

  12. The other problem with this argument is the assumption that Nader voters would have voted for any other candidate if Nader hadn’t been on the ballot. They might have simply stayed home.

  13. Mr. Premise keeps reminding me, none too subtly, that he regrets voting for Perot in 1992. Too bad; I will vote for whomever I want.

    1. Can I vote guilty and recommend life without parole.

  14. Dave KReader3 hours ago 25 points
    This is ludicrous. The only reason so many Dems voted Bush in FL during the 2000 election specifically is because they were confused by the ballot. Elderly people, even registered Dems intending to vote for Gore were surprised to find out their votes went to Bush instead.

    This is utter bullshit, you are perhaps thinking of the famous “butterfly ballot”, designed by Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, Theresa LePore a Democrat. This caused several hundred voters to punch their ballots for both Gore and Pat Buchanan, thereby invalidating them.

    Theresa LePore was not reelected in 2004.

  15. This article proves the opposite of what it’s trying to. If 60% of Nader’s voters went to Gore, Gore would have won Florida.

    Furthermore, 12%-13% of Florida Democrats also voted Republican in recent presidential elections. They prefer Republicans, whatever their affiliation. And they knew what they were voting for.

    And you can forget Florida entirely and go to New Hampshire, where Bush’s 1% win would surely have been wiped out if Nader hadn’t been on the ballot to get 4% of the vote.

    That a winner-take-all ballot means third parties are spoilers remains a fact whether anyone actually spoiled anything or not. But Nader certainly did. and Johnson or Stein could very well do it this time.

    1. If 60% of Michael Jordan’s points when to Karl Malone the Jazz would have won the championship!

      Whee! This is fun. You don’t have to be good enough to win if you can just take what someone else has earned because you think it should be yours.

      At least Tony is consistent, I guess.

      1. If Nader hadn’t been on the ballot Gore would have won. Forget Florida, forget Tennessee. Just look at New Hampshire. So, logically speaking, anyone voting for Nader who otherwise would have voted for Gore was helping Bush to get elected.

        Even if none of this were true, it remains true that he very well could have spoiled it, and even the biggest deniers can envision a plausible scenario in which that could happen.

        We can’t just set aside basic ballot math because we see elections as an opportunity to boast to the world about how morally and intellectually superior we are because we don’t vote for a major party. Why people feel the need to do this when they have every other day of the year to act like preening jackasses, I don’t know.

        1. So, logically speaking, anyone voting for Nader who otherwise would have voted for Gore was helping Bush to get elected.

          Even assuming that’s true, that’s insufficient to claim that Nader being off the ballot would have given Gore the victory. You have to tack on more unsubstantiated assumptions to get that conclusion.

          Why people feel the need to do this when they have every other day of the year to act like preening jackasses, I don’t know.

          Sorry, but everyone doesn’t have as much free internet time as you do.

        2. “We can’t just set aside basic ballot math because we see elections as an opportunity to boast to the world about how morally and intellectually superior we are because we don’t vote for a major party. Why people feel the need to do this when they have every other day of the year to act like preening jackasses, I don’t know.”

          Because the two-party system SUCKS.

          It forces people to choose how they want to be seen, and no matter how all over the map they may be about the issues, you gotta pick one side or the other. And you’ll be judged and jeered for whatever opinions you have that aren’t compatible with their official stance.

          “You can’t support gay marriage or bathroom choice because TEAM RED!”

          “You can’t support gun rights or free markets because TEAM BLUE!”

          And once some people decide they want another alternative that most aligns with their beliefs, the vote-shaming comes hard and fast until they’re bullied back into either of the major reservations.

          As for me, I’m sick of the Big Two… and this is the best opportunity for a third party to make a major dent in this pathetic election system. #SorryNotSorry

    2. And if the media hadn’t called Florida for Gore before the Panhandle voted, Bush would have won the state by thousands of votes you meat-headed shitsack.

    3. And if the media hadn’t called Florida for Gore before the Panhandle voted, Bush would have won the state by thousands of votes you meat-headed shitsack.

  16. Science H Logic!

    Nothing like abandoning your own claimed principles so that you can remain pure and principled. However you want to parse it, the Greens in Florida in 2000 stood on their “principles” while hurting those same supposed principles. They got to pat themselves on the back for their “purity” while their claimed principles were minimized. So, did they actually care about “Green” shit, or simply their view of themselves as good greens? Their actions, NOT their words, tell the tale. Of course, most “Libertarians” do exactly the same thing. Talk a big game while taking SS or working for the government or sending their children to public schools.

    Their actions directly led to the election of GW. Something they absolutely could have avoided. I am sure that like many “libertarians” they still regularly pat themselves on the back for their purity. Why? Because their self image was the extent of their “principles”.

    So in reality it is principals over principles.

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  18. no one wins elections by calling the voters idiots, so they substitute nader.

  19. it’s also worth noting that the only real objection any democrat or republican has to their team losing is that there was ANY other choice besides their team in the first place.

  20. Someone pointed out soon after the 2000 election that while Buchanan, wishing to make his right-wing ideological point without being a spoiler, put all his advertising money in States like Texas which had steep poll margins, Nader put all his money into tossup States like Florida.

  21. Apart from the Florida and NH vote totals, Nader also had an underreported effect on the atmosphere leading up to the election. Polls consistently showed Bush running 1% ahead of Gore in the final days of the campaign, within the range of error but still suggestive. On election night, the Bush margin vanished, replaced by a slight Gore edge (mostly in California where it did him no electoral good). The explanation would turn out to be that a Nader 1% changed their mind in the voting booth and switched to a candidate who had a chance to win (Gore). Republicans, however, felt they were being robbed, and used sharper elbows than they might have otherwise.

    1. Hugo, you are forgetting the 2000 “October Surprise” – the news about Bush’s drunk driving arrest from about 25 years earlier – that likely cost Bush a win in the popular vote. Bush’s poll numbers took a hit when that news came out.

      Your argument requires that over 25 percent of Nader voters changed their minds at the last second and decided to vote for Gore. That big a switch is *possible*, I suppose, but it sounds implausible. Do you have any evidence you could point us to?

      1. Just that Nader’s actual vote was about 1% lower than he had been running in the polls.

  22. Its so unlike salon to focus on expediency at the expense of ethics

  23. While this is all true, there is a much simpler refutation:Even with Nader, Al Gore still won Florida by nearly 77,000 votes ( nationally it was over half a million). So really, the only obes to blame for a Bush presidency are the Floridian members of the electoral college for defying the will of their constituents.

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