Florida still has not certified Obama’s win in that state. But it’s almost certainly his, and once again, the specter of third-party spoilers is being raised.
As of this writing, Romney trails Obama in Florida by 49,890 votes. That gap is more than filled by the votes received by the Libertarian Party’s Johnson (43,919) and the Green Party’s Jill Stein (8,764). And that’s not including the votes taken by the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode (2,559) and independent comedian-turned-politico Roseanne Barr (8,030)….
The votes from these four third-party candidates alone (there were six others in the state who received votes) total 63,272….
But is it reasonable for analysts to consider third-partiers as a single bloc? The Libertarians and the Constitutionalists are center-right parties, but the Greens (including Barr) are firmly on the Left. Could they ever collectively swing an election in favor of one candidate?
“Absolutely,” says [Adrian Wyllie, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Florida]. “If Ron Paul had won the Republican nomination, he probably would have pulled in the [mainstream] Republican vote, all of the Libertarian and Constitution Party votes, and several Green votes, too. That could have turned the state of Florida to a Republican victory.”
There’s a bit of a bait-and-switch here — the article goes from asking whether third-party candidates cost Romney Florida to asking whether third party candidates could influence some hypothetical election. Even in the latter scenario, I have my doubts about Wyllie’s confident assertion that even Ron Paul would pick up “all” libertarian voters. Many libertarian voters actually lean left. I voted for Johnson, but probably wouldn’t vote for Ron Paul. (I don’t like Paul’s stance on abortion, I think his gold standard ideas are ridiculous, and I think Johnson’s tax plan is close to what I’m looking for, in shape if not necessarily in the details.)
But what about the actual election? Did third party candidates swing Florida? Someone will have to crunch the numbers, but my guess is no, for exactly the reasons Nader didn’t swing it in 2000 — third party voters simply aren’t a coherent bloc. Some wouldn’t have voted for either candidate (i.e., would have stayed home), and history shows that almost every third party candidate picks up votes from both sides. As the numbers above show, Romney would have had to pick up more than three-fourths of the third-party votes to win Florida. That’s a very unlikely scenario.
Two stories involving third parties interest me more, in terms of the long term health of the democracy. First, Johnson picked up more than 1% of the vote in almost every state west of the Misssissippi. (Except Oklahoma, where he was not on the ballot, Iowa, and Louisiana.) It’s not surprising that he got 3.5% in his home state of New Mexico, where he was a successful and popular governor. But he also picked up 2.9% in Montana, 2.2% in Wyoming, 1.8% in Kansas, and 1.6% in each of the Dakotas — all traditionally considered Republican strongholds in presidential races. In 2004, every state west of the Mississippi went for Bush except Minnesota and the three on the West coast. This year and in 2008, though, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Iowa all went for Obama. The West has always adhered to a more libertarian, egalitarian, and less intrusive form of conservatism than the South, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the increasingly rightward direction of the Republican Party drove a wedge between those two constituencies.
Second, in Missouri, which went for Romney in the presidential election, even Republican and Republican-leaning voters abandoned Todd Akin in droves. Clare McCaskill won her re-election handily, but Libertarian Jonathan Dine also picked up 6% of the vote. (The same dynamic also played out in Indiana, where Richard Mourdock lost to Joe Donnelly, with Libertarian Andrew Horning taking, again, about 6% of the vote.) This suggests that, even in “red” states, there are limits, and those candidates’ awful views on rape simply made them unelectable. But given that Akin and Mourdock’s views are also the views of much of the Republican Party, this looks like long-term demographic death for the GOP unless it can figure out a new message.
Finally, one more story having little to do with third parties, but again suggesting that the ice is cracking up for the Republican Party: in Maricopa County, AZ, the ultimate outcome of a close race for Sheriff Joe Arpaio may be determined by the hundreds of thousands of provisional and early ballots yet to be counted. Protesters have essentially occupied the parking lot of the elections office to demand that the provisional ballots be counted, given what appear to be massive irregularities in the voter records that necessitated the use of the provisional ballots in the first place.
All this points to another hopeful trend — namely, that despite the stereotype of the apathetic American voter, we are actually quite determined to use our franchise when someone threatens to take it away. It may be too much to say that Republican officials’ attempts at outright voter suppression actually changed turnout enough to swing the election to Barack Obama. But could they have motivated some people who were on the fence about voting in the first place (it’s not exactly convenient), making some of the Democratic Senate and House victories more decisive than they otherwise would have been? I’d believe that.