Nader Won’t Make A Decisive Difference

Ralph Nader announced his latest run for the presidency, amid press hoopla. I doubt that he’ll have a decisive effect this time. The reason? Everybody knows, in retrospect, that Nader’s participation in 2000 killed Gore’s chances. Given the intensity of anti-Bush feeling among the Democratic Left, Democratic voters are unlikely to chance a repeat of the 2000 experience (just as many Republicans and independents who had voted for Perot in 1992 were unreceptive to conservative and libertarian third-party candidates in 2000).

Not everyone learns from his mistakes, but most people do if the consequences are important enough. There’s no reason to expect Democratic voters to ignore history and plunge off the same cliff twice.

UPDATE: Jim Miller makes a different and more sophisticated argument that reaches the same conclusion about Nader as I did. However, Miller goes further and argues that Nader may not even have been decisive in 2000.

12 thoughts on “Nader Won’t Make A Decisive Difference”

  1. Perhaps more importantly, without the Green Party support he got last time, he does not have the manpower to get on the ballot in many states, maybe in any.

    On the other hand, my Democrat wife surprised me when she said she’d vote for Nader. She wishes she had before, rather than Gore, and she is not impressed by Kerry. Not a scientific sample, and she knows Illinois is probably in the bag for the Democrat candidate. But the Dean crowd are very angry and potentially not willing to make tactical compromises, and many are too young to have voted in 2000. That was a long time ago, dude … .

  2. Lemmings of the world, Unite! You have only your butterfly ballots to lose.
    I’m a Libertarian for Nader. I’ve volunteered for his campaign (twice) and I’ll help if I’m asked. Can you think of a more subversive way to have fun?
    Comrades, join me!

  3. Yes, the Nader staff reported getting a lot of e-mail and demands from Dean supporters. The leftist fringe of the Democratic Party does not like Kerry.

  4. Noting the “Not everyone learns from his mistakes, but most people do if the consequences are important enough” puts me in mind of one of the most staggering realities of the world today.

    And that is that, in the 90’s, I was a Republican who refused to loathe Bill Clinton, whom I disagreed with but would not loathe. And I was always amazed by the number of Republicans that would not only be driven completely around the bend Clinton, but how he and his supporters would literally laugh at how Clinton would make them so nuts, they’d blow their own feet off, and he would gallop to victory, again and again.


    How is possible that these same ostensibly intelligent people can immediately turn around and find themselves on the diametric opposite side of the exact same phenomena? How can they be so utterly oblivious of a dynamic that they used to mop the floor with their adversaries now crushing the air out of they themselves?

    So I still need a bit of convincing on the “people learning from their mistakes” bit. Don’t even get me started on the mistakes of the human race in dealing with tyranny over the past century, something tens of millions seem inclined to forget with joyous abandon.

  5. I don’t want to get my hopes up about Nader torpedoing Kerry. But Kerry is the farthest thing from an exciting Democrat even to the Donk base, nor is a smooth centrist like Clinton who can reach into the middle. He is a rich guy from Massachusetts, a classic limousine liberal, who is now faking it as a populist, and it is almost laughable. Kerry is a candidate with very serious defects. If you add in the possibility of an even more leftist candidate, with Kerry having to guard that flank and being unable to shift hard into the center, the makings of a debacle are in place.

    I can only hope … .

  6. Lex: I suspect that your wife isn’t typical.

    Pedro: Fun is not what comes to mind when I think about Nader, but have a nice time.

    Andrew X: Some of us still loathe Clinton.

    Sylvain et al: The Democrats badly want to win, as the Republicans did in 2000. We had to make do then with Bush, who at the time appeared to be the best of a marginal bunch of candidates. For this reason I think the Democrats are likely to rally behind whomever they nominate. Yeah, they could act like lemmings, but I don’t think that’s the way to bet.

  7. She is not typical. But Kerry’s inability to inspire any sense of solidarity in a hardcore Democrat voter does not bode well for him.

    Pedro, get that vote out, baby!

    Andrew is right that Republican loathing of Clinton was a tremendously valuable weapon in Clinton’s hands. Ordinary voters were turned off by it. The same will hold true of the intense hatred Democrats have for Bush. It will hurt them with ordinary voters.

    Also, Kerry is trying to use the same populist/left sloganeering which Gore used, rejecting the centrist Clinton approach, which cost Gore the election. Kerry seems to have learned nothing from that.

    And Bush hasn’t even started campaigning yet, or spending any money yet.

  8. Kerry is dragging too much garbage behind him to be taken seriously by any openminded independents. And those are the voters who will swing this election. The 30% party faithful would vote for a pile of horse excreta, if it was labeled democrat. But they are not numerous enough to win on their own.

    Besides being a total bore, he boasts about not taking islamofascist terror seriously.

    And he is too much of an insider gato gordo, to please the Dean and Nader constituencies.

  9. Jonathan, I’d still suspect a certain number – mostly the younger crowd who liked Dean so much – would stick with an outsider type like Nader. And given the margin of the last election, he doesn’t need to get that many votes to play the spoiler. Of course, there are many who already assume Bush will win by a landslide, but I happen to disagree with their argument.

    (And not just because Robertson said he would win in a blowout, making the idea sound actually nutty…)

  10. Consider the effect of geography. Specifically, the effect of time zones.
    Assumptions: Bush vs Kerry, with Nader only independent candidate with high media profile; no too-close-to-call states, as in 2000; media announce projections for each state as its polls close, and do not reverse them.
    Now suppose voting proceeds more or less as it did in 2000, with electoral votes being apportioned as they are on this map. Then the following are the results as the evening progresses:
    4 PM PST – Bush 118, Kerry 130
    5 PM PST – Bush 236, Kerry 178
    Note that it is 2 hours before the polls close on the West Coast, and Bush has captured 57% of the electoral votes so far. Nearly every state in the Mountain Time Zone is widely known to be safe for Bush. Some news media may openly project an outright Bush victory.
    At this point (I believe), large numbers of West Coast voters decide to either stay home or vote for Nader.
    6 PM PST – Bush 270, Kerry 183
    Bush is projected the winner. Democratic voting collapses in all remaining states except Hawaii, throwing them to Bush. Final tally: Bush 351, Kerry 187.
    But change one state, Pennsylvania — currently leaning Democratic but not a sure thing — to the Bush camp, and look what happens to the results:
    4 PM PST – Bush 139, Kerry 109
    Kerry is never in the lead. Some media may project Bush the winner three hours before the polls close on the west coast.
    5 PM PST – Bush 257, Kerry 157
    Bush is now only 13 electoral votes short of the 270 needed to win — and certain to add more than that among Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming (totaling 18).
    In a relatively mild version of this scenario, all remaining states except Hawaii go to Bush. Final: Bush 377, Kerry 161.
    It is conceivable, however, that (with Nader’s help) Bush could carry every state outside the Eastern Time Zone, in which case (and with Pennsylvania going Republican) the final tally would be Bush 429, Kerry 109.
    Quite a difference from the 278-260 result last time. And it could all depend on the Keystone State.

  11. Sylvain: The problem with the “it’s going to be close again” comparisons is that the war has changed everything. Some Democrats will vote for Nader; but other Democrats will vote for Bush, because none of the Dems is competitive on defense issues, and it’s likely that most voters take defense issues more seriously than they did in 2000. It could be a close election but I think it’s more likely not to be.

    Jay: Could be. And don’t count on seeing prognostications like yours in the mainstream media. I think we’re going to hear a drumbeat of “it’s going to be close again” — right up to the moment when Bush wins decisively and the media mavens start talking about his “surprise, come from behind” victory.

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