Why Ralph Nader Did Not Lose the
200 Election for the Democrats
by Sam Smith
A study by the Progressive Review of national
and Florida polls during the 2000 election indicates that Ralph
Nader's influence on the final results was minimal to non-existent.
The Review tested the widely held Democratic
assumption that Nader caused Gore's loss by checking changes in
poll results. Presumably, if Nader was actually responsible for
Gore's troubles, his tallies would change inversely to those of
Gore: if Gore did better, Nader would do worse and vice versa.
In fact, the only time any correlation
could be found was when the changes were so small - 1 or 2 percentage
points - that they were statistically insignificant. When, for
example, in September of 2000, Gore's average poll result went
up 7.5 points over August, Nader's only declined by 1 point. Similarly,
in November, Gore's average poll tally declined 5.7 points but
Nader's only went up 0.8 points.
In the close Florida race, there were
similar results: statistically insignificant correlation when
the Gore tally changed by only one or two points, but dramatic
non-correlation when the change was bigger. For example, in nine
successive surveys in which Nader pulled only 2 or 3 points, Gore's
total varied by 7 points. As late as two weeks before the election,
Gore was ahead by as much as 7-10 points.
Nationally, the Review's moving average
showed Gore steadily hacking away at Bush's 15 point lead until
he was ahead by as much six points in September. But this lead
rapidly disappeared until Bush was back in a narrow lead by early
October. While Gore eventually won the popular vote, the election
was so close that most polls projections were still within the
standard margin of error.
During almost all of 2000, Bush led Gore
with the major exception of a month-long period following the
Democratic convention. During this high point for Gore, Nader
was pulling a running average of 2-4% in the polls. While it is
true that during October, Nader began pulling a running average
of 6% at a time when Gore was fading, Gore continued to lose ground
even as Nader's support dropped to its final 3%. In other words,
despite the help of defectors from Nader, Gore did worse.
Further, as Michael Eisencher reported
in Z Magazine, 20% of all Democratic voters, 12% of all self-
identified liberal voters, 39% of all women voters, 44% of all
seniors, one-third of all voters earning under $20,000 per year
and 42% of those earning $20-30,000 annually, and 31% of all voting
union members cast their ballots for Bush.
(Interestingly, the same critics who blame
Nader for Gore's loss fail to give him credit for narrow Democratic
victories in the Senate, such as the one in Washington state,
where the Green vote theoretically helped the Democrat)
Since the mythology of the 2000 election
shows no signs of fading, a few other points are worth noting:
- According to exit polling, those who
voted for Nader were disproportionately under 30, independent,
first time voters, formerly Perot voters, and of no organized
religion. In other words, many of his voters did not naturally
belong to the Democratic party. In fact, half as many Republicans
as Democrats voted for Nader. Six percent of independents and
7% of Perot voters supported Nader while only 2% of Democrats
- The public had a cynical view of both
major candidates with 41% believing that both would say anything
to win votes. Barely half considered either major candidate honest
and trustworthy. And an astounding 51% had reservations about
their own vote.
- Gore even lost his home state of Tennessee.
This is like flunking a political breathalyzer test.
- Perhaps the most important, but seldom
mentioned, factor in the outcome was the impact of the Clinton
scandals. 68% of voters thought Clinton would go down in history
more for his scandals than for his leadership. 44% said that the
scandals were somewhat to very important and 57% thought the country
to be on the wrong moral track.
- In short, the individual who did the
most harm to Gore (aside from himself) was Bill Clinton. If Gore
had distanced himself from the Clinton moral miasma he would probably
be president today.
- Clinton hurt in other ways, most notably
in the damage his administration did to other Democratic officeholders,
again something Democrats don't want to face. During the Clinton
administration, Democrats lost over 1,200 state legislative seats.
Further, the Democrats lost control of 9 legislatures and for
the first time since 1954 the GOP controlled more state legislatures
than the Democrats. In addition, the GOP won almost more than
40 seats in the House, 8 in the Senate, 11 governorships and 439
Democratic officeholders switched to the Democratic Party. Only
three Republicans went the other way. In short, the Clinton administration
was a disaster for the Democrats.
But even if Nader only took one percentage
point away from Gore - the most that can possibly be claimed -
some will say that the Greens should have known better than to
take that risk. In a way, it comes down to a debate between Democratic
situationists - I am what the polls tell me I ought to be - and
Green existentialists - I am what I am regardless of the polls.
The danger with the Green existentialist approach is that you
may end up with a Bush (or a Clinton, for that matter) in the
White House. The danger with the Democratic situationist approach
is that you definitely will. In one case, you give up on democracy
in favor of a 800-pound-gorillacracy; in the other case you still
retain some hope that things can get better.
Ironically, if Nader had done much better
- say 10 or 15 points - we would all be in better shape since
politics tends to follow third party uprisings when they are powerful
enough. In the most recent case, for example, both the GOP and
Democratic parties still remain in the shadow of the Perot paradigm.
But because Nader didn't do all that well, the Democrats can muddle
along pretending that it wasn't their fault after all but some
guy they wouldn't even let into the debate.
Democrats tend to think of Greens as wayward
members of their party, which is why they try to browbeat them
rather than convincing them. In fact, the Greens have less and
less in common with the Democratic Party - especially since the
latter refuses to stand up against the Bush war, greedy globalization,
and the disintegration of constitutional government. . .
Too many Democrats presume they can either
ignore the Greens or hector them back into their pointless, spiritless,
and morally dead confines. It won't work for the simple reason
that, unlike the Democratic Party, Greens actually believe in
something. And when you believe in something, you are willing
to take a few risks along the way.
KEVIN ZEESE points out that had Nader
not run, Bush would have won by more in Florida. CNN's exit poll
showed Bush at 49 percent and Gore at 47 percent, with 2 percent
not voting in a hypothetical Naderless Florida race. Further:
- Gore lost his home state of Tennessee,
Bill Clinton's Arkansas and traditionally Democratic West Virginia;
with any one of these, Gore would have won.
- Nine million Democrats voted for Bush,
and less than half of the 3 million Nader voters were Democrats.
- Zeese also notes, "The Democrats
lost the 2002 congressional elections, the California and New
York governorships, and many state legislatures throughout the
country. Surely Nader is not to blame for those defeats."
Sam Smith paage