Election 2016

Did Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Voters Cost Hillary Clinton The Election?

Only if you ignore how many more "likely" Democratic voters went for Trump or didn't vote at all.


Running for president is an affront to democracy.

Now that Donald Trump is president-elect, despondent Hillary Clinton supporters need someone to blame.

Of course, they could blame the Democratic Party for willfully tipping the scales in favor of ensuring the nomination of a candidate who The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald aptly described as "a deeply unpopular, extremely vulnerable, scandal-plagued candidate, who — for very good reason — was widely perceived to be a protector and beneficiary of all the worst components of status quo elite corruption."

They could also blame the lack of enthusiasm for either candidate, which produced a far lower-than-expected turnout, particularly in swing states. They could blame the fact that Clinton only won 65 percent of Latino voters—despite running against a candidate who has threatened mass deportation of undocumented immigrants whom he described as "rapists" and "criminals," and who promised to build a Mexican-financed wall on our Southern border. At least 27 percent of Latinos voted for…Trump!

There were other voter problems Clinton ran into, which likely dwarf any effect third party voters had on denying her the presidency (not least of which because it's ridiculous to assume third party voters would automatically go to Clinton).

According to CNN's exit poll data, Clinton won "union households" with 51 percent to Trump's 43 percent—a shockingly low number for such a historically Democratic base. Clinton lost independents 48-42 percent in favor of Trump (unfortunately, CNN doesn't list independent candidates in national data, offering only "Other/No Answer," which scored 10 percent of the independent vote).

Clinton was only able to win voters under the age of 30 with 55 percent to Trump's 37 percent, while 8 percent of young millennials went into the the all-encompassing "Other" category. While Clinton won the group overall, it is highly relevant that the Democratic nominee lost 10 percent of self-described "liberals" to Trump, with 6 percent responding "Other/No Answer."

But self-reflection is hard and blaming the deliberately marginalized voices of third party voters by the Democratic and Republican parties is easier.

There's no shortage of available takes focusing exclusively on the fact that votes for third party candidates (mostly the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson, the Green Party's Jill Stein, and independent conservative Evan McMullin) exceed the differential between Trump and Clinton's vote tallies in a number of states, including some swing states.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow—who when Reason's Nick Gillespie's asserted on Real Time with Bill Maher that she was a Democratic partisan replied, "Dude, I'm not even a Democrat"—said of third party voters last night, "If you vote for somebody who can't win for president, it means that you don't care who wins for president." In Maddow's world, this isn't "punching down" at the tiny percentage of voters who rejected the two least popular presidential candidates of all time, it's that serious-minded independents should only ever vote for the two major parties they refuse to join.

This thinking is in line with the conventional wisdom that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000 because of the razor-thin margin between the two major party candidates in Florida. Of course, such logic falls apart when you consider that almost 13 times as many registered Florida Democrats voted for George W. Bush as they did for Nader, and that liberals-for-Bush exceeded Nader's total vote by a factor of more than three.

CBS News' exit poll posed the hypothetical question of who third party voters would support if the race were only Clinton and Trump, and both Johnson and Stein supporters appeared to support Clinton over Trump by about 25 percent to 15 percent. But 55 percent of Johnson's supporters would have just sat out the election, as would 61 percent of Jill Stein supporters. According to New York Times exit polling, a whopping 63 percent of voters who declined to cast their ballot for the two major party candidates said they would have not voted at all in a two candidate race.

There is bound to be more complete data to come, but based on what we've got, the difference between third party voters' hypothetical support for Clinton versus Trump was relatively small, and had there been no "third party" option, most third party voters would have simply stayed at home. That is something both Democrats and Republicans would be wise to reckon with, if not out of introspection, at least out of self-interest in strategizing for the next election (shudder).

To watch PBS' debate featuring the much-maligned third party candidates Johnson and Stein, click here. You can also watch Reason TV's latest, "Gary Johnson Voters Explain Why They Aren't To Blame For President Trump" below: