A tale of third parties in the last two presidential elections

by J. Pharoah Doss
For New Pittsburgh Courier

In the 2016 presidential election, I rejected the nominees of the two major parties and voted for the Libertarian Party candidate. I never voted for a third party in previous elections because I thought I was throwing away my vote. (Which I actually wanted to do in 2016.) I also thought third parties did more damage than good.

In 1992, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton defeated Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush by an electoral count of 370 to 168. However, independent presidential candidate Ross Perot was on the ballot in all 50 states. Perot captured 19 percent (19,743,821) of the national vote, the largest amount outside of the two major parties since 1912. Votes for Perot presumably took votes away from Bush (39,104,550), which aided Clinton (44,909,889) to the win.

In 2000, Ralph Nader was the Green Party presidential candidate. Nationwide, Nader received 2.74 percent of the vote. That’s a dismal percentage compared to Perot, but the 2000 presidential race came down to a recount in Florida. Republican George W. Bush eventually defeated Democrat Al Gore by 537 votes, however, 97,421 Floridians voted for the Green Party. The Florida exit polls reported 25 percent of Nader voters would have voted for Bush, 38 percent of Nader voters would have voted for Gore, and the rest would have stayed home, advantage Gore.

In 2016, there were multiple third parties on the presidential ballot, varying by state, but the two with national name recognition were the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. If third parties are factions divorced from the two major parties, then the Libertarian Party is separated from the Republicans and the Green Party is separated from the Democrats, with each faction taking votes away from the major party they mirror. Shockingly, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won 5 states that were traditionally Democratic strongholds by very narrow margins. Pundits blamed this debacle on a lower-than-expected voter turnout, i.e., Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton didn’t receive the Obama turnout of 2012. However, elections are won by the actual vote count, not the number of people who decided not to vote, and out of the people that voted many of them, like me, chose a third party. So, how did the third parties affect the election, if at all, in these traditionally democratic states?

Here’s what happened in two of them.

In 2016 Trump defeated Clinton in Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes, but the Green Party received 50,000 votes. (The Libertarian Party got 147,000 votes.) If the Green Party wasn’t on Pennsylvania’s ballot, there’s no guarantee all 50,000 Green Party votes would have gone to the Democratic candidate, but it’s safe to conclude Clinton would have received the majority, which could have made a difference. Trump also defeated Clinton in Wisconsin by only 23,000 votes and, again, the Green Party received 31,000 votes. (The Libertarian Party got 107,000.)

In September 2020 the Democratic Party played political hardball and made sure the Green Party wasn’t allowed on the ballot in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin due to technicalities. (Not submitting filing papers in person and a wrong address.) But the Libertarian Party remained on the ballot in these two battleground states.

In the 2020 Presidential Election, Democratic candidate Joe Biden defeated Republican president Donald Trump in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Biden won Pennsylvania by 45,000 votes and Wisconsin by 21,000 votes. However, if the Libertarian Party took votes away from the Republican candidate, then the Libertarian Party took 77,000 votes away from Trump in Pennsylvania and 38,000 votes away from Trump in Wisconsin.

If the Green Party harmed the Democrats in 2016 then the Libertarian Party harmed the Republicans in 2020. The difference is, the Democrats eliminated their problem while the Republicans never noticed the potential threat that was actually on the ballot.


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