Ralph's Fault?

Was Ralph Nader (or the 3,072,000 people who voted for him) responsible for Gore's poor showing at the polls? Many of Gore's supporters have said so. Many of them continue to blame Nader for every ill the country is now suffering and inflicting.

Initially, you might think they are right (never mind that Gore in fact got 540,000 more votes than Bush did nationwide, that his support in polls was declining though Nader's was not rising, that there were "third-party" candidates on the right as well, that tens of millions of registered Democrats didn't even vote, that Florida illegally threw 70,000 people, mostly African-Americans, off the voting rolls, that ballots were so confusingly designed that Pat Buchanan won in Jewish districts, that the counting of votes in Florida was stopped by the Supreme Court, or . . . ). For example, a majority of Florida's 97,000 votes for Nader might have gone to Gore who then might have won that state's electoral votes and the presidency. Had just 600 Nader voters (or voters for Browne, Buchanan, McReynolds, Hagelin, Phillips, Moorehead, or Harris -- or Bush) voted instead for Gore, it might have overridden the rampant corruption of the vote in Florida, making up for Gore's loss of his and Clinton's home states and Democratic stronghold West Virginia.

Democrats who voted for Bush ought to be considered here, too. According to exit polls (available at ABC), 13% of Florida Democrats voted for Bush -- that's more than 150,000 -- while only 8% of Republicans voted for Gore. Almost equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans voted for Nader.

In other states where Nader votes appear to have had a negative impact on Gore's numbers, exit polls show that 3 to 12 times as many Democrats voted for Bush as for Nader. In New Mexico, like Florida a late-called race (for Gore), 16% of Democrats voted for Bush and only 2% for Nader. If the Democrats couldn't get nearly a fifth of their own party to vote for their candidate, they can hardly expect Nader supporters to have voted for him!

Only in Oregon and Wisconsin might it be claimed that Nader adversely affected Gore's showing. In Oregon, only 10% of Democrats voted for Bush, not so much greater than the 6% of Republicans who voted for Gore. And Nader got, respectively, 3% and 1% of their votes.

Oregon is home to many committed activists against global capitalism, dams, old-growth logging, and other issues that Gore either defended or ignored. Some of them might have supported Democrats in the past, but Al Gore's party is far away from them on too many issues to claim any right to their votes. This was clinched by selecting the sanctimonious right-winger Joe Lieberman as running mate. [2003: Lieberman is now one of the Senate's most fervent supporters of George Bush and the invasion of Iraq.]

Gore won Oregon anyway, as he did Wisconsin, where only 8% of Democrats voted for Bush and 6% of Republicans for Gore. In the 11 other states that gave Nader 5% or more of their votes, only 2, like Oregon, were close between Bush and Gore -- Maine and Minnesota -- and Gore apparently won those states, too.

Gore won in Washington, even though 6% of Democrats voted for Nader. He also won in Minnesota despite 13% of Democrats voting for Bush and 3% for Nader. And he lost in New Hampshire, where twice as many Republicans voted for him (12%) and for Nader (2%) as Democrats voted for Bush and for Nader.

Did Nader get votes from Independents that might have gone to Gore? In 2 of the 3 states in which Bush's margin of victory was less than or near Nader's share of the vote -- Florida and New Hampshire -- slightly more Independents voted for Gore. In Ohio, 1.4 times as many Independents voted for Bush as for Gore, a gap that Nader's votes don't come close to filling. Again in Ohio, many more Democrats voted for Bush than did Republicans for Gore.

Nationwide, Bush took 5.5 times more Democrats from Gore than Nader did. And Al Gore did little to attract Nader supporters other than stir up fear of Bush. His strong showing with union members and African-Americans is not proof that Gore earned their trust, only that he succeeded in scaring them about Bush (and that Nader's campaign failed to connect with many of them). As mentioned above, he did more to turn "traditional" Democrats away. His selection of Joe Lieberman, for example, proved to many that Gore's vision was as far as the party could get from its progressive traditions.

Finally, the Bush and Gore campaigns were identical in their strategy of putting marketing over substance. They both managed to avoid airing substantial differences. The election between them came down to which brand of false populism you fall for more easily. So it is not surprising the vote was split right down the middle. If Nader had not run, it would have been the same. The most corrupt candidate won. He is the one to blame.

-- Eric Rosenbloom, copyright 2000, revised 2003 and 2004

Data (from CNN, exit poll data available at ABC)

1. States where Nader got 5% or more
  Nader Bush Gore
Alaska 10 59 28
Colorado 5 51 42
Hawaii 6 56 38
Maine* 6 44 49
Massachusetts 6 33 60
Minnesota* 5 46 48
Montana 6 58 34
Oregon* 5 47 47
Rhode Island 6 32 61
Utah 5 67 26
Vermont 7 41 51
D.C. 5 9 86
*See next table.
2. States where Nader vote was within
or near Bush-Gore difference
  Nader Bush Gore
Florida* 2 49 49
Iowa 2 48 49
Maine 6 44 49
Minnesota 5 46 48
New Hampshire* 4 48 47
New Mexico 4 48 48
Ohio* 3 50 46
Oregon 5 47 47
Washington 4 45 50
Wisconsin 4 48 48
*See next table.

3. Exit Polls from states where Bush won by margin less than or near Nader's vote
  Republicans   Democrats   Independents
  % of all
voted for   % of all
voted for   % of all
voted for
Florida 38 1 91 8   40 1 13 86   22 4 46 47
New Hampshire 32 2 85 12   24 1 6 92   44 7 43 47
Ohio 37 1 89 9   38 2 13 88   26 5 54 38
National 35 1 91 8   39 2 11 86   27 6 47 45