Back in 2000, many political watchers blamed Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore — arguing that if just a few of the 97,000 Florida voters who had voted Nader went to Gore instead, Gore would have been able to close Bush’s 500-vote advantage in the state and win the presidential election.
Today, it seems a similar drumbeat is starting for the 2016 election — only this time some pundits are blaming Green Party candidate Jill Stein for costing Hillary Clinton the election.
Here is Dave Wasserman, who writes for the Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight, making the argument:
Jill Stein is now officially the Ralph Nader of 2016.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) December 1, 2016
Stein votes/Trump margin:
It is true that if all these Stein voters had gone to Clinton, she would have won these three states and, as a result, won the election.
But there’s a big reason to be skeptical: This assumes that most or all Green Party voters, particularly in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, would go to Clinton had they not voted for Stein. But many Green Party voters are protest voters who are disappointed with what both parties — and especially Democrats — have to offer. It’s possible that these people would have gone to Libertarian Gary Johnson or just wouldn’t have voted at all if Stein wasn’t on the ticket. (After all, more than 41 percent of eligible voters didn’t vote this year.)
The comparison to 2000 and Nader in particular doesn’t hold. In 2000, only a small fraction of Florida voters for Nader — about half of a percent! — would have needed to vote Gore to give Gore the election. This isn’t what we’re talking about in 2016: Based on Wasserman’s numbers, the margins suggest that more than 94 percent of Pennsylvania Stein voters, 72 percent of Wisconsin Stein voters, and 21 percent of Michigan Stein voters would have had to go for Clinton if Stein wasn’t on the ticket.
So maybe the lesson isn’t so much that Stein acted as a spoiler but that Democrats simply didn’t connect with a bunch of left-wing voters that they should have been able to attract. But of course, that means the party will have to blame itself, not others, for its stunning 2016 defeat.