Why Ralph Nader Did Not Lose the 200 Election for the Democrats

by Sam Smith

http://prorev.com/, 2001


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 did.

- 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

Ralph Nader page

Home Page