Public Comment

Commentary: Why the Nader-as-Spoiler Argument Carries Little Weight

By Ruthanne Shpiner
Friday March 14, 2008

I will say that, contra Michael Hardesty (Letters, March 11), I usually agree with and appreciate the positions Becky O’Malley takes in her editorials. Yet I found I disagreed strongly with her position on third party voting. 

I am middle-aged so am a remnant of the 1960s and ’70s. I don’t think I fit Becky’s caricature of the remnants of the ‘60s. Yet I do not think I will live to see the “revolution” in my lifetime but I also I do not hold out hope that significant change will result from voting in Democrats. I do see a difference between the two parties and clearly think we would have been better off (in some but not all ways) with a Gore rather than Bush presidency. Yes, egregious legislation like NAFTA would have remained as would have welfare reforms and growth of the prison industrial complex. But I do not think Gore would have packed the Supreme Court with conservatives as has Bush. I doubt Gore could have implemented the policies he speaks of now with respect to the environment because I don’t think he would have been able to combat the pressure and lobbying Congress receives from industry. In his professorial role now he can speak and craft films about such things more easily than if he were actually in political life. 

But I whole heartedly disagree with anyone who honestly believes that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election. I am a registered Green Party voter. In 2000, perhaps more than now, there was true momentum that could have garnered the Green Party the requisite 5 percent of the vote needed for matching federal funds. In the interest of promoting the viability of a credible third party, I registered and voted Green in that election. The same thieves who stole the election from Gore may well have stolen the votes necessary to secure the 5 percent to the Greens. I do not know. Building a credible third party is the best hope I see. I put far more faith in that than in promoting Democrats. 

I do know that polls show that in the presidential 2000 race, in the swing states of New Hampshire, Oregon and Florida even if Nader were not running, Bush would have won. To say nothing of Gore losing his home state of Tennessee. 

See commentary in Znet Nov. 9, 2000 by Tim Wise (“No More Mister Fall Guy”) that lays out the exit poll statistics for why blaming Nader is misguided. 

In our electoral college way of counting votes there are key swing states in presidential elections. In 2000 those swing states were New Hampshire, Oregon and Florida. To quote Wise : 

“Looking at New Hampshire first, it is true that Bush’s margin of victory was only about 7,500 votes, and that Nader received about 22,000 votes there. But based on the exit polling data, if Nader hadn’t been in the race, only a little less than half of those Nader votes would have gone to Gore, and a fifth would have gone to Bush, so that in the end, Bush would have still won New Hampshire by about 1,500 votes in all.” 

Next, Oregon: 

“In Oregon, where it is a virtual article of religious faith that Nader is to blame for the Bush victory, the hype, is once again overblown and flatly wrong. Yes, Bush won the state by a margin of only about 23,000 votes, and Nader received the votes of 54,000. But once again, based on the exit polls, had the race been only between Gore and Bush, Gore would have gotten 47 percent of those 54,000, for a total of around 25,400, Bush would have received 21 percent of those 54,000, for a total of about 11,300, and in the end, Bush would still have squeaked out a victory, by about 8,000 votes.” 

Finally we have the debacle in Florida. As I said above, this debacle may well have sabotaged both Gore’s win and the Green’s securing 5 percent of the vote. Wise explains: 

“Consider this: Gore lost in Florida among white women (many of those soccer moms who Clinton carried, and many of whom would normally have been reached by a Democratic candidate talking about education, health care, abortion, and other key issues) by a 52-45 margin, with the Nader factor being negligible among this group. And he lost among seniors: a group that rightly should have been concerned about Bush’s plans to partially privatize social security: a plan that 12 years ago, rendered Pierre DuPont (the only Republican willing to float the concept), an asterisk in American political history, and a laughingstock. Here too, among the traditionally Democratic constituency of seniors, the Nader factor was negligible. 

Even more to the point, Bush received the votes of 12 times more Democrats than Nader did, and 5.25 times more self-identified liberals than Nader did in Florida, indicating that progressive voters and those who might have been seen as a natural lock for Gore, actually were stolen not by the Greens, but by the Republicans.” 

So I am agreeing with Michael Hardesty that “Gore cost Gore the election,” but just expanding it a bit to include the Republican role in the mess. 

And I partially agree with Becky O’Malley. I do vote for progressive Democrats locally—in fact I worked extensively on Kriss Worthington’s last race even though he does not represent my district. I believe in thinking globally and acting locally. I think progressive democrats can make a difference locally and this is a reason I think it important to promote the Green Party both locally and nationally. As such I do not regret for a second working and voting for Nader in 2000 and will continue to work to strengthen third party credibility. And that is why I think the spoiler argument carries little weight. 

Can anyone counter this with actual statistics? 


Ruthanne Shpiner is a Berkeley resident.