Warnings against voting for a third party might not be taken so seriously were there not a clear example of how dangerous it can be. For the American Left, one need look no further than the 2000 election, when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader spoiled the election for Democrat Al Gore, who lost by a mere 537 votes.
It's a story we all know, but is it true? Tony Schinella, former Nader staffer and editor for Patch.com, talks to Bob about the research he's done debunking the "Nader-as-spoiler" narrative and explains what he thinks the real tragedy of 2000 was.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. As we've heard, most Americans who fear or loathe Donald Trump don't want to find themselves with a “Ralph Nader” debacle on their hands. His determination to put the Green Party on the electoral map is widely blamed for Al Gore's 537-vote loss in Florida to George W. Bush in 2000. If Nader's thousands of progressive votes had gone to liberal Gore, Gore would have won the presidency. No George W. Bush, no ruinous Iraq war, no ISIS - if. The thing is, it might be baloney.
Tony Schinella is an editor and journalist at patch.com in New Hampshire. As a 2000 Nader staffer, he’s not keen on seeing the George W. Bush presidency being blamed on his man. But he’s also, as they say, done the math. Tony, welcome to On the Media.
TONY SCHINELLA: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me why Ralph Nader is not, in fact, responsible for the George W. Bush regime.
TONY SCHINELLA: We don't know what voters in Florida would' have done if Nader was not on the ballot, but this is what’s so astounding. Registered Democrats, 13% of them voted for Bush. People who said that they voted for Bill Clinton in 1996, 16% of them voted for Bush.
BOB GARFIELD: I can’t argue with your conclusion that Gore did a crummy job all by himself, failing to hold the base that had been established by President Clinton in two Florida wins. But what is at issue is what would have happened if Nader weren't in the race?
TONY SCHINELLA: So you can't just automatically say every Nader voter or even 45% of Nader voters in Florida were leftist Bernie Sanders people. The numbers are actually the opposite of that. Nader took 4% of the independent vote and equal numbers, 1% of both Republicans and Democrats registered party members. So, in other words, of those registered Democrats and Republicans they would have separated almost equally if Nader was not on the ballot.
Look at the Perot voters; 10% of Perot voters in the exit poll in Florida voted for Nader. Perot voters in the results from 2000 were going almost 2-1/2 to 1 for Bush. CNN actually did an exit poll, asking people in Florida if there were only two candidates who would you vote for? Bush received 49% of the Florida tabulation, Gore received 47% and 2% said they wouldn't have voted. Even then, Bush has a two-point lead.
BOB GARFIELD: Your piece looked at just about every permutation that has been forwarded about how the Nader vote would have split, absent Nader's name on the ballot, and they all came out, as you're saying now, where George W. Bush still wins Florida, if he actually, indeed, won Florida. But in what way could you be wrong? Could you have this wrong?
TONY SCHINELLA: Oh yeah, I could have this wrong. And I am telling you from my own personal experience because most of my family lives in between Miami and Key Largo. It's a totally mixed bag. There were pro-lifers who were voting for Nader in that race. I know them. They told me they were voting for Nader. But there were also hippie-dippy leftist Democrats. Knowing that, as well as knowing that one of Nader's other best counties, other than Monroe, was Gainesville, which is where the University of Florida is, there probably are 537 votes in Gainesville and Monroe County, say 538, that would have gone to Al Gore if Nader had not been in the race. So I've analyzed my own analysis and come up with the opposite of what I truly believe with the data, because I know personally voters in those areas, and I know what the turnout was. And Florida is crazy because it was essentially a tie. I mean, you can’t cast millions of votes and have one person be selected with 537 win. I mean, it’s, it’s the closest we've ever seen.
BOB GARFIELD: Knowing what you know about third-party votes and their dynamics, if you had your 2000 vote back would you cast it for Ralph Nader?
TONY SCHINELLA: If it were August 2000 again and I knew what I know now, I would have worked harder for Ralph Nader because I truly believe that we should have more than two political parties, and that was what the end result of the campaign was supposed to be, was getting the Green Party to 5% so it could be a national party. I, I won’t change that about myself.
I think that you can look at some things, including the Iraq war, which you mentioned before, and say that may not have happened. It probably would have happened but not the way it did turn out. If you look at the Patriot Act votes, if you look at the authorization to go into Afghanistan, all of those things were voted by almost all of the Democrats at the time. Would it actually have happened the way that it all panned out? Maybe, maybe not, but I look at the missed opportunity that 2000 had. Many people were scared into abandoning Ralph Nader in the creation of the Green Party because the goal wasn't just to support Ralph Nader. It was also to establish the Greens as a national party with 5%. That is the missed moment. And everybody, again, we see in 2016 are saying to all of the Bernie Sander voters, you're just gonna have to wait for the reforms and you've got to come along and vote for Hillary Clinton. And they're saying the same thing on the other side - you got to support Trump because you all promised to support the GOP nominee. The, the scaring - people have the choice to do what they want with their votes, and if they want to vote for Jill Stein and they want to vote for Gary Johnson, they should do that, regardless of what happens. That's their right. The only wasted vote is one that isn't cast. But don't allow yourself to be scared to do what you want to do with your vote.
BOB GARFIELD: Tony, thank you so much.
TONY SCHINELLA: Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Tony Shinella is an editor and journalist at patch.com, speaking from Concord, New Hampshire.