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Apr 09 2012

The impact of third parties in recent US presidential elections

The issue of the effect of third party candidacies is interesting, particularly this year. Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson is seeking the nomination of the Libertarian Party while former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer is seeking to capture the nomination of the Reform Party.

But the most significant factor could be the campaign by the shadowy group known as Americans Elect. While claiming to be a group that is sick of partisan gridlock and favors finding an alternative candidate by means of an open national primary using the internet for voting, the organization is secretive about its funding sources and there are suspicions that its motives are not as public-spirited as advertised. The key people behind it seem to be the usual suspects who are, under the banner of ‘centrism’ and ‘bipartisanship’, pushing for the same old pro-war, pro-oligarchy type of candidate. The fact that Americans Elect has formed itself as a 501(c)(4) group, coupled with its assertion that it is not a political party, enables it to keep its funding sources secret and makes a mockery of its claim to transparency. Incidentally, Buddy Roemer is also seeking to become the nominee of Americans Elect.

One interesting feature of the ‘Bread and Peace’ model of Douglas Hibbs is that while this model calculates the share of the incumbent party vote of just the two major parties, there have been situations where a third party has had a significant share of the vote, such as with George Wallace’s candidacy in 1968, where he got 14% of the national vote and Ross Perot’s in 1992 where he got 19% and it is interesting to see what impact such candidacies might have had on the outcomes.

Going purely by the graph in Hibbs’s paper and taking the blue line as the expected vote, it looks like in 1968 the incumbent party’s Hubert Humphrey’s share of the two-party vote was not affected much by Wallace’s presence (in fact he did marginally better than the model’s prediction). What seemed to have sunk him were heavy Vietnam war casualties which reduced his predicted vote share by a whopping 7.4%. In the 1992 election, Perot’s presence may have lowered the vote share for George H. W. Bush somewhat, though the model predicts that he would have lost anyway.

The 1996 election also had a third party candidate in Ross Perot again who won about 8.4% of the vote. Although predicted to win, Bill Clinton’s winning percentage (55%) beat the model’s prediction by a large amount (4%), and this may have been due to Perot siphoning more votes away from Bob Dole than from Clinton.

So it looks like there is no convincing case to be made that third parties have swayed the election outcomes, though they may have influenced the margin of victory.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    This analysis totally ignores the election in 2000 where the presence of Ralph Nader on the ballot almost certainly gave New Hampshire and, more famously Florida to Bush II. However, the fault lies not with Nader, it lies with the morons who didn’t find Gore pure enough for their tender feelings and declined to vote for him, instead sending a “message” to the Democrats. There “message” resulted in the elevation of fascists Alito and Roberts to the Supreme Court.

  2. 2
    Pierce R. Butler

    slc1 @ # 1 assumes all the 2000 Nader votes in Fla would otherwise have gone to Gore.

    Hoo, also hah.

    The Democrats trotted out that delusion instantly, apparently attempting to fool the public, and themselves, about the hopelessly inept campaign they had just run, and to divert attention from the criminally corrupt nature of the system in which they eagerly, if clumsily, participate.

    GW Bush did not deserve to win that election – but Gore certainly deserved to lose.

  3. 3
    Francisco Bacopa

    The Democrats trotted out that delusion instantly, apparently attempting to fool the public, and themselves, about the hopelessly inept campaign they had just run

    And the most inept thing about the campaign was that Gore didn’t get Clinton involved enough. The Dems really should have made Gore’s election look like four more years of Clinton.

  4. 4
    slc1

    Re Pierce Butler @ #2

    slc1 @ # 1 assumes all the 2000 Nader votes in Fla would otherwise have gone to Gore.

    Not a bit of it. If 500 more Nader voters would have voted for Gore instead of Bush, Gore would have won. In fact, the election was lost in Palm Beach County where over 1000 votes for Gore were disallowed because of confusion of voters over the butterfly ballot.

  5. 5
    Pierce R. Butler

    Francisco Bacoppa @ # 3: … the most inept thing about the campaign was that Gore didn’t get Clinton involved enough.

    If Gore had accepted Clinton’s reported offer to campaign for him in Arkansas, and had (probably) thus won that state, he wouldn’t have needed Florida half so much.

    slc1 @ # 4: … the election was lost in Palm Beach County …

    And the election was lost in Miami when the locals allowed themselves to be intimidated by the Brooks Brothers riot.

    And the election was lost in Duval County, where a Republican-controlled voting office illegally sabotaged the election by printing a ballot significantly different from the sample ballot used by get-out-the-vote drives and confusing first-time voters.

    And the election was lost in Tallahassee, where Sec. of State Katherine Harris ordered a purge of voters likely to vote Democratic and met no resistance from the corrupt, ineffectual, asleep-at-the-wheel state donkey party.

    And…

  6. 6
    Wayne

    @slc1

    Some questions for you:

    1) How many registered Democrats in Florida voted for Bush?

    2) How many voters were kicked off the voter rolls by Republican hit squads operating under the auspices of the Secretary of State of Florida?

    3) Who actually won Florida when unofficial recounts where done, showing that it was the decision of the Supreme Court that put Bush in power?

    4) What critical state did Gore lose that would have made winning in Florida unnecessary?

    Ans: (1) > 50,000; (2) at least 250,000 mostly minority voters; (3) Gore; (4) Gore’s home state, Tennessee.

    It was convenient for the Democrats to claim Nader cost them the election. They used it as a bludgeon to disenfranchise Green voters across the nation after 2000. Read Theresa Amato’s Grand Illusion .

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