Analysis of Third Party Results by Sean Scallon

Here is an analysis of the results of the recent election as it relates to the “big three” third parties. Sean Scallon is a frequent commenter at IPR and is the author of a book on third parties.

The results of the 2012 elections for the three biggest non-major parties (Libertarian, Green and Constitution) clearly show the LP is strongest of three as of right now. And that’s not just because Gary Johnson broke 1% of the electorate or gained the LP’s largest vote total in a Presidential election since 1980. Across the board in elections for the Senate and House there were many LP candidates who finished with over one percent of the vote as well and in some cases much higher than that. Indications are the LP cost the GOP at least nine seats in Congress and if one combines votes for Gary Johnson plus votes for Ron Paul in the GOP primaries of Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, it seems the LP’s influence was there on the Presidential race as well. Combine these good results with the fact that culturally the country may well be going in a more libertarian direction (at least among whites: Romney carried young whites 55-40 percent) and LP finds itself in its strongest spot since the early 1980s. If they can continue to build their party in places where said candidates ran strongest (places like Colorado, Indiana and Georgia for example) and continue to identify young, they could become a long-term threat to the GOP. That is, if they avoid the kind of destructive infighting which plagued the party the last time they were in this spot. Finding someone who can fill Gary Johnson’s leadership will be their next big step.

For Greens and the Constitution Party, the results were not positive. The partisan nature of the election took votes away from both parties for their potential bases on the Left and Right…

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46 thoughts on “Analysis of Third Party Results by Sean Scallon

  1. paulie

    Indications are the LP cost the GOP at least nine seats in Congress

    Only if you presume that all or nearly all LP votes would otherwise have gone Republican.

    Past studies show they actually break down closer to 50-50 among those who had a second choice, with a large portion that would not otherwise have voted at all.

  2. paulie

    For Greens and the Constitution Party, the results were not positive. The partisan nature of the election took votes away from both parties for their potential bases on the Left and Right…

    Greens did relatively well, at least compared to the last two times. Constitution Party not so much.

  3. Independent Green Party Voter

    The Greens did very well. Doctor Stein pulled Independents and Greens back to the Green Party with her intelligent, positive, friendly campaign.

    Doctor Stein’s campaign – working closely, and collaboratively with Independents and Greens in each state got the Green Party on the ballot in more states than the Green Party presidential campaigns in the two previous cycles.

    At the congressional level the Independent Green Party of Virginia put the most candidates for congress on the ballot by a single third party since 1916 in the commonwealth.

    The Indy Greens – entering their 12th year as a recognized state party – continue to be so successful by being inclusive. Conservatives, centrists, and progressives have all run as Independent Green Party candidates at all levels: local, state, and federal.

    In 2012 the Indy Greens worked with

  4. Green_Liberal

    I’m curious if there are many people that voted Nader in 2008 and Johnson in 2012. How much did Johnson benefit from being most well-known and well-publicized third party candidate?

    Based on the issues, it doesn’t make much sense that people who voted Nader in 2008 would vote Obama in 2012.

    Yet Stein/Barr/Anderson combined got less votes than Nader 2008.

    This may indicate that some of those votes went to Johnson. Or is there a general hesitancy to vote third party if you’re not familiar with the candidate?

  5. Green_Liberal

    One more factor that occurs to me….maybe some “moderate” 3rd party voters couldn’t stomach Barr in 2008 so they voted Nader….but then they opted to back the socially liberal Johnson in 2012.

  6. Richard Winger

    Ralph Nader was on the ballot in 45 states in 2008. States in which Nader was on the ballot in 2008, but in which neither Stein, Anderson, nor Barr were on in 2012, are Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wyoming. On the other hand, Nader was not on in Texas in 2008 but Stein was.

  7. Rob

    This analysis is way too harsh to the Greens. Stein did a solid job, especially facing challenges from Barr and Anderson (who I voted for and totally collapsed). Nader made plays for disenchanted conservatives and paleocosn before (I’m thinking his interview with Pat Buchanan in 2004 with the American Conservative) but he did not play that card as much in 2008. I’m not sure that many Nader voters backed Johnson this time out.

  8. paulie

    Any analysis of what happened to Nader voters should keep in mind that not voting is an option.

    Some 2008 Nader voters may have been casting a generic protest vote and may indeed have gone for Johnson this time regardless of ideology (or because economic issues are relatively minor issues to them).

    Some Johnson 2012 voters were non-voters last time. Many were Obama voters. A fair number may have been McCain voters or Nader voters. A few were Chuck Baldwin voters or wrote in Ron Paul in 2008.

  9. Oranje Mike

    It’s worth nothing the impact Libertarians may have had in these 9 races but one should not assume the race was “spoiled”. A lot of Libertarians, myself included, would likely not cast a vote unless a LP candidate was on the ballot.

    One should not also assume Nader voters would vote for Jill Stein. There are too many factors and motivations involved. I actually voted for Nader in ’04 but would never vote for Stein. In ’04 I was casting a protest vote and I like what Nader did in ’00. I never agreed with most of his positions (the economic ones, at least) but always respected the man.

  10. paulie

    If they can continue to build their party in places where said candidates ran strongest (places like Colorado, Indiana and Georgia for example) and continue to identify young, they could become a long-term threat to the GOP.

    Yes – and just as big a threat to the Democrats.

    That is, if they avoid the kind of destructive infighting which plagued the party the last time they were in this spot.

    We’re not dependent on one major donor now, like we were then.

    Finding someone who can fill Gary Johnson’s leadership will be their next big step.

    Does this presume that Johnson is done?

    For Greens and the Constitution Party, the results were not positive. The partisan nature of the election took votes away from both parties for their potential bases on the Left and Right. Only consolation for the Greens is they did win state legislative seat in Arkansas. Neither party’s base is getting any younger.

    Ron Paul supporters, some of whom won’t break for LP due to social issues. Occupiers. Disillusioned Obama supporters.

    Remember, the Greens greatest period of growth took place during Clinton’s second term, culmination with Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign. Back then, it was the Greens who were the most powerful of the nation’s non-major parties.

    I think the LP led in most measures of party strength then too.

  11. Green_Liberal

    “Any analysis of what happened to Nader voters should keep in mind that not voting is an option. ”

    Good point, but are Nader voters in 2008 the non-voting type? If it’s true that a significant amount of Nader voters stayed home, that’s sad. Unfortunately the “don’t vote” meme was getting around alot just before the election.

    “Some 2008 Nader voters may have been casting a generic protest vote and may indeed have gone for Johnson this time regardless of ideology (or because economic issues are relatively minor issues to them). ”

    Right. For example, Alex Jones liked Nader back in 2008, but this time round AJ was only promoting Johnson. Johnson was definitely the most visible 3rd party candidate.

    What I don’t see is 2008 Nader voters going for either Obama or Romney, unless they were very young in 2008 and have changed ideology since.

    I’m still thinking that about half or close to half the Nader votes went to Stein/Anderson/Barr. This tells me that the Green Party’s gains are not all they are cracked up to be, although Stein should be commended for an excellent effort.

    I would attribute the lack of gains (despite the Democrats looking worse than ever) to the power of the lesser-evil ideology and the strong contrast b/w Obama and Romney, in image if not in program.

  12. Green_Liberal

    Arg, scratch that comment on Alex Jones–ignorance on my part. AJ endorsed Chuck Baldwin. However, I would still hypothesize that some individuals of that mindset did support Nader in 2008 and wouldn’t have considered supporting Stein in 2012.

  13. bruuno

    While the vote total for the Green Party may not have been all that impressive, I do think it was a good year for the Presidential ticket. The Party got away from the McKinney wing and nominated a serious and intelligent candidate in Stein. her biggest problem was lack of name recognition (in my mind at least). I think this year was a step forward for the Greens which, from an outsiders perspective at least, appeared to have been in disarray the last couple of election cycles.
    As for the article by Scallon there are some real problems with it as most have already mentioned (Johnson is done?, the assumption the LP candidates only take from GOP, Johnson didn’t actually break 1% at least as of now).
    Having said that I do think the LP and Gary Johnson had a great year.

  14. Curt Boyd

    As a Nader supporter in ’08, I was very impressed with Dr. Stein’s candidacy. She was the progressive voice that was lacking in the campaign, considering that Rocky Anderson wasn’t much of a factor. The Greens picked a strong candidate, and made me look again at the Green Party platform.

    That said, I considered voting for Johnson, because I think Progressives and Libertarians are similar to certain issues that the Governor was addressing in his campaign as far as marriage equality and marijuana legalization, and putting them in the forefront of his platform.

  15. Jed Siple

    Obvious bias in the reporting. Jill Stein did very well, surpassing David Cobb & Cynthia McKinney, bringing many independents & progressives back to the Green Party.

  16. Jed Siple

    Also, I don’t think it’s fair to say Johnson hasn’t broken 1%. We won’t know that for sure until Michigan counts its write-in votes.

  17. bruuno

    @18- Fair enough. Personally I don’t think it really matters. Johnson did very well and rounding off the numbers he got 1% either way. Jut thought the statement that he got over 1% showed a lack of research

  18. Kevin

    @18 Michigan has just released its write-in vote totals. Johnson got 7,774 votes there.

    FWIW, I voted for Badnarik in 2004, Nader in 2008, and Johnson in 2012.

  19. Jed Siple

    According to Richard Winger, that’s a record number of write-in votes in Michigan. I’m still calling this campaign a success.

  20. Kevin

    Thegreenpapers.com currently calculates that even with Michigan’s write-in votes tallied, Johnson still fell just short of 1% with 0.99%.

  21. Root's Teeth Are Awesome

    if one combines votes for Gary Johnson plus votes for Ron Paul in the GOP primaries … it seems the LP’s influence was there on the Presidential race as well.

    Votes for Ron Paul may indicate the influence of libertarian philosophy.

    I don’t see how votes for Paul indicate the influence of the LP.

  22. Green_Liberal

    Getting back to the OP, he says about the Green prospects

    “With Obama ensconsed for a second term, the Greens can better their activism for their agenda, especially if they hook-up with larger groups on the Left like the Occupy Movement for example. They don’t have to worry about “costing” Obama anything. Remember, the Greens greatest period of growth took place during Clinton’s second term, culmination with Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign. Back then, it was the Greens who were the most powerful of the nation’s non-major parties.”

    Not only is there some hope in this perspective there is also some sense. I did think that despite the lack of “big name” candidates, Greens/Justice/P&F would do better overall due to widespread disillusionment with Obama. But what I think has been underscored is the liberal/progressive loyalty to Obama is tribal in its intensity. It not so much what he does but what he represents that is so significant.

    However if someone like Joe Biden becomes the presumptive nominee in 2016 without a serious progressive challenge, then this could be a huge opportunity for the Greens.

    As for Johnson…he is appealing to liberals (would probably fit in better among Democrats then among Republicans), and I believe former Obama and Nader voters made up a big chunk of his 1%. I think that if Johnson had stressed the progressive side of his sales tax idea, then he would have gotten way way more votes….though perhaps at a long term cost.

    The Ron Paul campaign also played out in Johnson’s favor. For most of 2011-12, Ron Paul was basically the (un)official opposition, or the voice of dissent, and was thus steering dissenters (and probably many former Obama and Nader voters) into the Libertarian camp. If there had been an energetic and inspiring primary challenger to Obama, then the progressive candidates might have had more momentum going into the general election.

  23. Deran

    BAN is reporting that some elements of the Rocky Anderson campaign/Justice Party are going to have a party building convention in Oakland, CA early next year.

    I have not seen any real activity on the Facebook JP page, nor on the JP website? Anyone else hearing anything more substantive?

    If the JP can really create a broad progressivist political party, the GP maybe in trouble as the moderate independent Left formation in the USA.

    I also have to say I am not seeing any motion on the Peace and Freedom Party builds nationally project. The P&F really should have gotten Barr to pony up some big money as a donation to the party. I know that sounds crass, but hey, it could make national party-building more possible with a big injection of cash.

  24. Sean Scallon

    Thanks one and all for your comments and thanks to Red for posting this.

    In response I will say I didn’t mean to imply Johnson was finished with politics and if I did so I apologize. We simply don’t know what his next is going to be. Hopefully it will be with an eye towards the LP’s future unlike, say, Bob Barr. The party has the opportunity now to grow beyond being a disgruntled Republican’s club on one hand or a Chief Wana Dubie pot party on the other.

    Hey, if the Greens are happy with Jill Stein’s showing (and I think Ben Manski is) then who am I to argue with them? Their opportunities for the next four years is still the same.

    And I wish the best of luck to Cody Quirk on his undertaking to see if CP can round-up all the remaining non-major parties on the Right into the CP tent. I think it would be worth the party’s time to support such a project over the next four years.

    One strategy the non-majors haven’t pursued often is trying to get elected officials from the majors to defect to them. Maybe they think it’s a waste of time but a major way the GOP grew itself back in 1854 was getting all the northern Whigs like Lincoln, Thurlow Weed and Horace Greely on their side which gave the party instant credibility as being more than just an another anti-slavery party. Each of the majors could do with someone currently in office (not just another recycled loser) switching sides in order to have the same effect.

  25. paulie

    The party has the opportunity now to grow beyond being a disgruntled Republican’s club on one hand or a Chief Wana Dubie pot party on the other.

    We’ve never been either one, although the stereotypes are accurate for some members.

    One strategy the non-majors haven’t pursued often is trying to get elected officials from the majors to defect to them. Maybe they think it’s a waste of time

    Not necessarily. However, are we getting genuine ideological converts (or people coming out of the closet ideologically) or do we have to run politicians that will govern as they have before but under new labels? Also – what’s in it for them? They see the track record and the lack of money, volunteers and in many cases ballot access, debate access and media access, so why would they want to switch?

    a major way the GOP grew itself back in 1854 was getting all the northern Whigs like Lincoln, Thurlow Weed and Horace Greely on their side which gave the party instant credibility as being more than just an another anti-slavery party.

    The Whigs collapsing made their case to these politicians plausible.

  26. Nicholas Sarwark

    The Whigs collapsing made their case to these politicians plausible.

    The GOP appears to be doing its best to collapse. The question is whether the LP will seize that opportunity.

  27. wredlich

    “Ron Paul supporters, some of whom won’t break for LP due to social issues.”

    I’m deep in the Ron Paul movement and I don’t think there are many supporters like this.

    The issue keeping many Ron Paul supporters (including me) from going whole hog into the LP is that the chances of making a difference seem bigger in the GOP.

    If the LP could become less dysfunctional (sorry but that’s what I see), and if GOP insiders succeed in suppressing the Paullists, they might be ready to jump on board with the LP.

    It always seems to me on the local level that the LP is great. But when you get up to the state and especially the national level, it becomes a mess. Too many wingnuts screwing things up, and the party is unable or unwilling to clean them out (or lets them get in control).

    Maybe the LP needs a benevolent dictatorship … which of course goes completely against libertarian ideology. :-)

  28. paulie

    I’m deep in the Ron Paul movement and I don’t think there are many supporters like this.

    There are some. I’ve argued with some of them on facebook, for example. They just could not support Johnson due to abortion, immigration and marriage issues.

    chances of making a difference seem bigger in the GOP.

    After their last national convention? I suppose hope always springs eternal.

    Maybe the LP needs a benevolent dictatorship …

    We’d have a revolt on our hands.

  29. paulie

    Well, I’ve been in a coma for three days before, but I’ve never walked on water (except while holding a rope attached to a fast moving boat) or turned water into wine (except with the help of yeast and sugar).
    :-)

  30. Matt Cholko

    W.R. – It seems clear to me that the wingnuts are much more prevalent in the GOP than the LP. I cannot understand how someone who is familiar with both parties could think otherwise. Please explain.

  31. Sean Scallon

    The reason the GOP didn’t collapse after ’64 was that a nascent conservative movement now had control of an electoral vehicle for its own use and the party establishment, led by Nixon, made it’s peace with it. If said establishment decided “We can’t work with these people,” a new party might have been formed to get away from them. It never happened.

  32. Sean Scallon

    The situation in 2012 much different. You have a party made up of different factions trying steer it in it’s own particular direction while the demographics and the culture are running against it. As it adjusts itself to these realities, many people aren’t going to like the direction the party takes and may well leave. This is where the LP or even the CP can benefit.

  33. paulie

    It seems clear to me that the wingnuts are much more prevalent in the GOP than the LP. I cannot understand how someone who is familiar with both parties could think otherwise. Please explain.

    Depends on what you call wing nuts, but there are plenty of whack jobs and fruit loops in every political party I have ever paid any close attention to.

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