The Effect of Third Parties on Clinton's Loss By the Numbers
The argument is being made by many prominent people in the media that Clinton's loss is the fault of third party voters. So, for your consideration, I reviewed up a number of sources that relate to the votes cast in Tuesday's election.
Total Registered Voters
Let's start with the number of Americans who were registered to vote this year. From Politico on October 19th, entitled "America hits new landmark: 200 million registered voters."
Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, said national registration now stands at 200,081,377 voters.
According to the author, Shane Goldmacher, this represented "a symptom of the fast-growing and demographically shifting electorate that is expected to redound to the benefit of the Democratic Party in the coming years."
The Bipartisan Policy Center report on the 2012 election shows that registered voters in 2008 were higher at an estimated 153,100,000 registered voters, and slightly higher in 2012 at an estimated 153,271,300. Nonetheless, the number jumped significantly over the last four years.
2016 Turnout and Major Party Presidential Votes cast 2008-2016
Now lets look at turnout in the 2016 election and election results between the two major party candidates versus turnout and results in the 2008 and 2012 elections, when Obama ran against McCain and Romney, respectively.
In 2016, the latest numbers I could find came from CNN. They show the following numbers:
Trump received 59,793,902 votes or 47.5% of national total.
Clinton received 60,082,556 or 47.7% of national total.
Clinton won the popular vote, but Trump won enough states to win the Electoral College vote.
Note: The two major third parties combined for about 4.02% of the total votes cast. [Source]
If we compare the 2008 and 2012 elections to the 2016 election, we immediately see that turnout was down dramatically from just over four years ago, despite an increase of newly registered voters of approximately 36 million people. Neither Clinton nor Trump came close to the number of votes Obama received in 2012 (nearly 66 million) much less the 69.5 million Obama received in 2008. Instead both received roughly the same number of votes cast for McCain and Romney, the losers in those two elections.
What is also apparent is that Republican vote totals over this time period remained remarkably consistent at roughly 60 million, plus or minus a few hundred thousand, regardless of turnout. The major drop in votes cast has all occurred on the Democratic side. Clinton barely surpassed 60 million this year. A brief comparison with Obama's totals in 2008 and 2012 is instructive:
Obama (2008) - 69,498,516
Clinton (2016) - 60,082,556
Difference is 9,415,960 votes less for Clinton in 2016 than for Obama in 2008
Obama (2008) - 65,919,795
Clinton (2016) - 60,082,556
Difference is 5,837,239 votes less for Clinton in 2016 vs. Obama in 2012
In short, since 2008, Democrats have lost about 9.5 million votes cast for their Presidential nominee, while the voter totals for the Republican candidates stayed roughly the same. As for more specific information, Clinton did worse than Obama among African-Americans (88% vs. 93%), Hispanics (65% v. 71%) and Young People 18-29 (54% vs. 60%), though she still managed to win a majority of those votes. She received roughly the same percentage as Obama among women voters (about 54%).
It's impossible to know all the myriad reasons the Democratic turnout has fallen over the last eight years, or why Clinton was unable to reassemble the Obama coalition that defeated to mainstream Republican candidates handily in the prior two presidential elections, to defeat a candidate that many (myself included) considered a buffoon, a liar, a fraud, a repeated failure at a number businesses (mostly to the detriment of his investors, not himself), a sexual predator and an utterly contemptible human being. Scholars, historians and political analysts of every stripe will be reviewing the history of this election for years to come.
However, I would like to look at the numbers that relate to one claim that is being bounced around the internet and the mainstream media. in the wake of the Trump electoral (if not popular vote) victory over Clinton. Namely, that third party voters are to blame.
[Full Disclosure: I voted for Jill Stein on New York state. My main reason was that I saw her values and policies as more consistent with mine than Clinton or Trump. However, I would be a prevaricator if I did not add that I knew Clinton would win New York easily (she did) thus making it easier for me to cast a "protest" vote against the people the major parties had nominated this year. Had I lived in a swing state, I cannot tell you how I would have voted. I really don't know, other than to say it would have been a much harder decision not to vote for Clinton.]
Third Party Impact on the Election
A shown previously, third parties did much better in this election than in 2012. Specifically, the two largest third parties, the Greens and Libertarians combined for a total of 5,205,215 votes broken down by party as follows:
Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, received 4,012,871 votes, or 3.23 percent of the national total.
Jill Stein of the Green Party received 1,192,344 votes, or about .96 percent of the national total. [Source]
Combined percentage of the Green and Libertarian parties vote totals represented 4.02% of the national total. This is an increase from 2012 when these two parties received only 1,536,246 votes or 1.2% of the total [Source]
Though both the Greens and the Libertarian candidates failed to receive the numbers that pre-election polls suggested was within the realm of possibility, they did increase their vote totals from 2012 significantly. Many have attributed that gain to a general dislike for both of the two party candidates. However, quite a number of Democrats are specifically blaming third party voters for costing Clinton the victory that they expected of her.
The major basis for the claim that third party voters cost Clinton the election (and that therefore third party voters "are to blame" for making Trump President) are set forth far better than I could present them in this article, "How Did Donald Trump Get Elected? How Third Parties Cost America Dearly," by Jason Reynolds in the Inquisitor:
[I]n a few key states, such as Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the margin for victory for Donald Trump was less than one percent. Let’s be frank. In every single state that was close, Trump won. These three states had a voter margin of less than one percent.
So what does that mean? Well, let’s break down how the votes fell in Florida, for example. With 100 percent of all the precincts reporting, Donald Trump took 49 percent of the popular vote with 4,591,156 to Hillary Clinton’s 48 percent with 4,462,338 votes. That’s a difference of 128,818 votes. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate took two percent of the popular vote with 204,818 votes. Jill Stein got 63,658 votes. According to party ideals and polls, Libertarians will vote Democrat if there is no Libertarian candidate available. What does this tell you? Without the third party, Hillary Clinton takes Florida and those 29 electoral votes. […]
That’s just one example. Consider the election results in Michigan. With 96 percent of the districts reporting, the popular vote fell in familiar lines. Donald Trump took 48 percent with 2,166,071 votes and Hillary Clinton took 2,106,512. That’s a margin of 59,559 votes. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate took 165,416 votes. Michigan carries 16 electoral votes. [Note though not stated, Stein had 46,946 votes in Michigan] ...
Hillary Clinton was never able to overcome the distrust and suspicion that many fringe voters had for her. When WikiLeaks released the allegations that the DNC had maneuvered and forced their favorite candidate Bernie Sanders out in favor of the more political Clinton, that distrust flared. That showed up in droves at the voting booths.
Does this mean that we should abolish third party voting? No. There is a fundamental right to being able to vote for whoever you want to. But maybe the third party candidates can look at their chances to be elected with a cold and unwavering eye. And in elections such as this one, where the stakes are entirely too high, make the decision to bow out for the greater good.
Others were more blunt with their accusation that third parties are to blame for Clinton's loss.
Steve Benen of The Maddow Blog did the math to show how Hillary Clinton got Nadered in 2016:
In Florida, Hillary Clinton lost by about 1.4% of the vote – but if Jill Stein’s supporters and half of Gary Johnson’s backers had voted Democratic, Trump would have lost the state.
Similarly, in Pennsylvania, Clinton lost by about 1.1% of the vote – but if Jill Stein’s supporters and half of Gary Johnson’s backers had voted Democratic, Trump would have lost the state.
In Wisconsin, Clinton lost by about 1% of the vote – but if Stein’s supporters had voted Democratic, Trump would have lost the state.
In Michigan, Clinton appears to be on track to lose by about 0.3% of the vote – but if half of Stein’s supporters had voted Democratic, Trump would have lost the state. [...]
... Congratulations, third-party voters who thought they were protesting system, you just got Donald Trump elected. Please enjoy the four years of your worst nightmares that you brought to life through your own arrogant and self-righteous stupidity.
It turns out that Clinton and the Democrats did not run an effective campaign, but those who are directly responsible for her loss are the voters who went to the polls and cast a vote for Donald Trump when they chose Jill Stein or Gary Johnson.
I think you get the picture. Here's the problem I have with it. It assumes that all Green voters and at least half of Libertarian voters would have chosen Hillary if those parties were not on the ballot. The authors in question cite no evidence for this assumption, however. Let me present my argument as to why I believe they are wrong.
First, we have always had third party candidates in recent American elections, the most famous of which were George Wallace and Ross Perot. In the case of Perot one could certainly make a valid argument that he did cost George H.W. Bush (Bush 1) the 1992 election in which Clinton one. Perot, a fiscal conservative, captured 19% of the vote, votes that otherwise likely would have gone primarily to Mr. Bush. However, in this election we have nothing close to the Perot phenomenon at play. Polls showed a decreasing decline in third party support as the election neared. This year, there is no solid evidence that all of the Green party voters, or a significant number of Libertarian voters would have voted for Clinton.
Consider the 2012 election results. In 2012, Jill Stein captured "396,684 votes, representing 0.3% of the popular vote," and Gary Johnson ... received 1,139,562 votes which represents 0.9% of the popular vote. It's safe to say that these are the core, diehard supporters for these parties. They were unlikely to vote for either of the major party candidates in this election.
Stein improved her vote total by only .6% in 2012, or 742,878 votes. These are the new Green supporters who the authors claim might have voted for Hillary if they hadn't voted Green. However I've seen nothing that shows this to be the case. Perhaps some of them would have done so, as indeed many must have done, as her 2-3% polling numbers melted away as the election drew closer. However, we have no reason to assume that is the case. Perhaps, like many former Democratic supporters, they would have chosen not to vote at all, as stated in this Washington Post article, "Hillary Clinton’s campaign was crippled by voters who stayed home."
[A map that shows Donald Trump outperformed Mitt Romney in the Midwest] obscures Clinton's deeper problem: She received far fewer votes than Barack Obama in an election that was supposed to see a big increase in turnout. Ballots are still being counted, so these numbers will shift, but the Democratic candidate for the presidency received fewer votes in 2016 than 2012 in 46 states. Trump got more votes than Romney in 28 states. [...]
Why? One likely reason is that Hillary Clinton's get-out-the-vote effort faltered, perhaps in part because she lacked a fervent base of support outside of major metropolitan areas who would volunteer. Another possible (but iffy) reason is that the Trump campaign explicitly tried to suppress turnout among Clinton's base of support. Another is that Obama was successful in inspiring infrequent voters to go to the polls in a way that Clinton wasn't -- and in the way that Obama wasn't in 2010 and 2014 when he wasn't on the ballot. [...]
Increase Clinton's current vote totals 2 percent and Clinton wins Michigan, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Boost her support 3 percent and she adds Florida and Pennsylvania -- and wins the presidency. Three percentage points is precisely the sort of difference that a get-out-the-vote effort is supposed to make. Part of that difference could and should have come from big cities in those states, but it didn't.
So blaming Stein's paltry number of voters for Clinton's loss seems more like "hippy punching" to me than a legitimate reason for her failure to carry critical swing states. She was supposed to have the best GOTV effort ever. In fact, a pair of Clinton GOTV folks came to my house to ask if my daughter (away at school) had voted yet, and I live in a red neighborhood in a state Hillary was going to win anyway.
But what about Gary Johnson, you might ask, the Libertarian candidate, who supposedly had a number of Democratic leaning and Independent voters among his supporters? Why weren't they the spoilers? Well, again, much of Johnson's support, which peaked at 13% around the time of the GOP convention, also began to rapidly melt away as the election got nearer.
In an ABC tracking poll in late October, Johnson's support was shown to be at 8% of all Independents, 2% of all Republicans and 2% of all Democrats. This poll was supported by a CNN/ORC poll that showed Johnson's support - then at 3% nationally - was comprised of less than one percent Democrats, as opposed to 2% Republicans and 8% Independents.
Independents are a catchall category who may lean either conservative or liberal despite lack of party affiliation, and the Libertarian party is generally aligned with many basic conservative principles. I think the better assumption is that Johnson's supporters, if they had chosen to vote for the major candidates would have been more likely to vote for Trump than Clinton. This was born out in the CNN/ORC poll where only 1% of self-described liberals claimed they supported him.
In fact, Reason magazine posted an article on November 5th, "If Hillary Clinton Wins Nevada, Florida, North Carolina and Other Close States, She Can Thank Gary Johnson," in which they claimed Johnson supporters were pulling votes away from Trump by a significant margin to the benefit of Clinton. All things considered, I suspect they have the better argument than Clinton supporters do as to how much Libertarian voters impacted the votes cast for their respective candidates.
I, of course, welcome other viewpoints on the alleged damage third parties did to Clinton, and the "blame" they bear for her loss, but in all fairness I think it's an easy excuse to make for a deeply flawed candidate who ran a poor campaign in a year when she should have wiped the floor with a person as odious as Trump. To blame voters for her failure to connect with their issues and their concerns, i.e., to earn their votes rather than expect them just to show up and deliver the presidency for her, was her and her advisors biggest mistake.
The large numbers of people who sat out this election is more than proof that the blame for her loss belongs to Hillary Clinton, her campaign, the DNC and the Democratic establishment that went along with ensuring she became the candidate no matter the cost. It's an insult to suggest that the voters, any group of voters, are to blame for why she couldn't defeat Donald Trump.
I'll leave you with this quote from a speech by Bernie Sanders from back in 2015, long before he was considered a serious rival to Clinton and long before Trump's nominations was considered likely.
"Let me be very clear. In my view, Democrats will not retain the White House, will not regain the Senate, will not gain the House and will not be successful in dozens of governor’s races unless we run a campaign which generates excitement and momentum and which produces a huge voter turnout.
With all due respect, and I do not mean to insult anyone here, that will not happen with politics as usual. The same old, same old will not be successful.
The people of our country understand that — given the collapse of the American middle class and the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality we are experiencing — we do not need more establishment politics or establishment economics.
We need a political movement which is prepared to take on the billionaire class and create a government which represents all Americans, and not just corporate America and wealthy campaign donors.
In other words, we need a movement which takes on the economic and political establishment, not one which is part of it."
~ Bernie Sanders August 28th, 2015
Prophetic to say the least.