Spencer Black's June 27, 2023 opinion piece labels Cornel West’s third-party presidential campaign as “misguided,” citing Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign as an instance of how a Green Party presidential candidate can “spoil” elections for Democrats. Black asserts that Nader "took enough votes away from Gore to elect Bush," attributing Gore's loss in Florida, and consequently the election, to Nader's influence.
However, this narrative that third-party candidates act as "spoilers" in elections, drawing votes away from major party candidates, is a more complex issue than it initially appears. In fact, research has shown that third-party voters are not simply disaffected voters from the major parties. They possess a range of political views and their second choice, if forced to choose within the two-party system, is not uniformly a Democrat or Republican candidate.
In the 2000 US Presidential Election, it was found that if Green Party candidate Ralph Nader had not run, many of his voters would not have uniformly voted for Al Gore, the Democratic candidate. In fact, almost 40% would have voted for George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, had they turned out in a Nader-less election. Additionally, many Nader voters supported Republican candidates in non-presidential races, indicating that these voters did not strictly align with the Democratic party. This complexity is further highlighted by a San Francisco Chronicle report from November 9, 2000, which revealed that more than 200,000 Florida Democrats, accounting for 12% of their party, voted for George W. Bush instead of Al Gore. If just 1% of these Democrats had chosen to support Gore, he would have won Florida comfortably. Moreover, approximately half of all registered Democrats abstained from voting altogether.
Moving forward to the 2016 US Presidential Election, a study found that if Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson had not run, an estimated 56.7% of his voters would have abstained from voting. This suggests that the presence of a third-party candidate can actually increase voter turnout by engaging individuals who feel unrepresented by the major parties. Moreover, third-party voters are not a monolithic group. They encompass a wide range of political views. Data from the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) shows that while Johnson voters mirrored Trump voters on economic policy, they mirrored Clinton voters on social policy and more closely approximated them on foreign policy.
The notion that third-party candidates "steal" votes from major parties is fundamentally undemocratic and assumes that major parties are entitled to votes. However, in a democratic society, every individual has the right to vote for the candidate they believe best represents their interests and values, regardless of party affiliation. If major parties, such as the Democrats, are concerned about losing votes to third-party candidates, it could be a reflection of dissatisfaction with their own candidates. Instead of blaming third-party candidates for their losses, major parties might focus on nominating candidates who can appeal to a broader range of voters. This approach respects the democratic process and acknowledges the diverse political perspectives of voters.
Rather than focusing on blaming third parties for the outcomes of close elections, we believe the attention should be on reforming our electoral system to better represent the diverse political perspectives of the American people. This could include measures such as ranked-choice voting, which allows people to vote for third-party candidates without forcing voters into a "lesser-evil" dilemma. We invite all those who are dissatisfied with the current two-party system to join us in advocating for these reforms.
Samuel Chance (he/him)
Melissa Minkoff (she/her)
Four Lakes Green Party Co-Chairs