From Smirking Chimp
By Daniel Ellsberg and Michael Ellsberg
'Tis the season for some progressives to argue that the best way to build a progressive political movement in America is to stick it to the centrist Democrats -- who have rejected progressive nominees and platforms -- by voting for a third party, even in swing states.
If that helps elect what many regard as a "greater evil" Republican, some third party supporters argue, it will radicalize significant parts of the electorate, help the third party grow, and gradually increase the prospect of victory for genuinely progressive politics.
As die-hard progressives, we strongly disagree. Few beliefs among progressives have been so thoroughly tested in empirical reality over the last 20 years -- and few have been so thoroughly discredited -- than the idea that running third party candidates in swing states during close elections is a good way to build a progressive voting bloc.
In 2000, Ralph Nader, running as a Green, received 2,882,955 votes, which was 2.74% of the popular vote.
In 2004, Nader (running as an independent) received 465,650 votes, which was 0.38% of the popular vote. The Green Party's candidate, David Cobb, received 119,859 votes, or 0.10% of the popular vote.
These two candidates combined received about 20% of the votes that Nader alone received in 2000. An 80% decrease in your voting bloc is not exactly grounds for confidence that "boycotting" or "protesting" the two-party duopoly via voting for a third party in swing states is likely to expand your voting bloc.
Why did the Nader and Green voting base fall off a cliff after 2000? The answer is obvious. In 2000, Nader was more-or-less open that he was intentionally trying to help get George W. Bush elected, under the (now discredited) theory that hard-right regimes somehow swell the ranks of radical voters.
In his book Gaming the System: Why Elections Aren't Fair and What We Can Do About It, William Poundstone cites a reporter who asked Nader in 2000: "you would not have a problem providing the margin of defeat for Gore?" Nader reportedly replied, "I would not at all. I'd rather have a provocateur than an anesthetizer in the White House. Remember what [Reagan secretary of the interior] James Watt did for the environmental movement? He galvanized it. Gore and his buddy Clinton are anesthetizers."
In another instance, Nader said he'd prefer Bush over Gore because "it would mobilize us."
In a 2000 Outside magazine article, Jay Heinrichs wrote: "When asked if someone put a gun to his head and told him to vote for either Gore or Bush, which he would choose, Nader answered without hesitation: 'Bush...If you want the parties to diverge from one another, have Bush win.'" And in another interview, Nader told Dana Milbank that a Bush victory would "rally the left." Nader's subsequent strategy of campaigning hard in swing states aligned with his theory that Bush would be preferable over Gore for progressives.
Many of Nader's most prominent supporters in the progressive movement, including one of us (Daniel), along with Michael Moore, and a dozen former "Nader's Raiders," urged Nader to stick to his original goal: winning 5% of the national vote, which would qualify the Greens for federal funding.
The obvious way to do that, we said, would be for Nader to stop campaigning in swing states, and instead focus his campaign in vote-rich cities in safely red or blue states such as California, New York, and Texas, where he could reach many progressive voters at once. And these voters would feel comfortable supporting the Greens under such a strategy, since most potential progressive voters did not share Nader's view that Bush would be preferable to Gore.
But Nader chose to abandon his declared 5% strategy. Instead, he campaigned aggressively in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida in the final days of the election, favoring fewer total votes but more votes in swing states. This was his apparently-intentional strategy of trying to defeat Gore.
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).