Stop Scapegoating Third Party Candidates for Election Results You Don’t Like

Candidates such as Virginia's Robert Sarvis weren't spoilers after all

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Alex Wong / Getty Images

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Virginia Terry McAuliffe speaks during a campaign rally on Nov. 4, 2013 in Annandale, Va.

Even before yesterday’s election, Republicans were ready to blame Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli’s looming defeat to Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Libertarian Party candidate Robert Sarvis. “A Vote for Sarvis is a Vote for McAuliffe” argued one Cuccinelli supporter.

With the final count in, expect Republican anger at the Libertarian “spoiler” to grow exponentially. McAuliffe, who had enjoyed a double-digit lead at various points in during campaign, won with just 48 percent of the vote to Cuccinelli’s 46 percent. The Libertarian Sarvis ended up pulling almost 7 percent, far more than enough to tip the election the other way.

But to blame a major-party loss on third-party candidates is fundamentally mistaken. First off, it ignores data that the Libertarian pulled more votes from the Democratic candidate than he did from the Republican one—an exit poll of Sarvis voters showed that they would have voted for McAuliffe by a two-to-one margin over Cucinelli. Second, and far more important, it presumes that all potential votes somehow really “belong” to either Democrats or Republicans. That’s simply wrong and it does a real disservice to American politics.

(MORE: Are Libertarians Having a Moment?)

The GOP theory is that Libertarians – who often bill themselves as fiscally conservative and socially liberal – ultimately care more about spending and taxes than about, say, marriage equality, access to abortion, or drug legalization (all of which Sarvis supported). Because Republicans talk a good game on cutting the size and scope of government (whether they govern that way is a very different question), votes “wasted” on Libertarian candidates who won’t win anyway should really go to GOP candidates regardless of their views on social issues.

Democrats trot out a variation of the same argument, too, usually training their ire toward left-of-center third parties. Don’t you know that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader “cost” Al Gore the 2000 presidential election by draining away precious votes from the vice president? Indeed, in both 2000 and 2004, even the ardently left-wing magazine The Nation implored Nader not to run specifically because he might let George Bush triumph.

Since it now looks as though Sarvis actually kept the race closer for Cucinelli, it’s well past time to re-examine the whole notion that third-party candidates somehow only get in the way of serious choices that always come down to the Democrat and the Republican in any given race. That sort of thinking helps justify draconian restrictions on ballot access for minor party candidates in every state in the country.

Indeed, part of Sarvis’ appeal in Virginia was that he spoke out against the Old Dominion’s rules for ballot access and about being shut out of gubernatorial debates despite solid poll numbers. The same sort of thing happens elsewhere. In the battleground state of Ohio, which didn’t even allow party affiliations other than Democratic or Republican to be listed on the ballot for many years, pending legislation would set qualification standards so high that third parties would essentially be forced to run as write-in campaigns.

Americans have come to expect if not demand a wide range of increasingly diverse and personalized choices in every part of our lives, from coffee shops to clothing stores to bookstores. And yet in something as important as politics, we allow the two major parties to systematically rig the system to exclude a range of opinions extending beyond two parties that were founded before the Civil War. Is it any wonder that a record number of Americans now call themselves political independents?

Reflexively blaming third-party candidates when a Republican or Democratic candidate loses only adds insult to that injury. Despite having every advantage going in, Al Gore ended up losing in 2000 because, among other things, he wore bizarre orange makeup to one of the presidential debates and came across as an environmental zealot fundamentally at odds with modern industrial technology. Ken Cuccinelli lost because, among other things, he failed to assuage fears that he would bring back sodomy laws, alienated single women, and he had no connection with young voters.

The major parties already enjoy vast advantages in terms of money, brand recognition, ballot access, and get-out-the-vote operations. When their candidates lose elections, especially tight ones, they would do better to look at what they did wrong rather than off-loading responsibility or blame on third parties who give voters more options to express themselves.

77 comments
Veretax
Veretax

The CNN Exit poll was very telling.  If you discount Sarvis entirely... and presume there were an equal number of Conservatives and Liberals... Then the resulting conclusion would be that Cuccinelli lost because he failed to secure the conservative vote.  

McAullife scored 13% of self ascribed conservative vote. And nearly 89% of the Liberal Vote.  Now that may marginalize the moderates a little bit, but consider that more moderates  56% to 34% went to McAullife over Cuccinelli.  So My conclusion is, that because the establishment GOP failed to rally behind Cuccinelli, and the Conservative core of Virginia only went at 83% to Cuccinelli.  It's amazing he didn't lose by more.  Frankly.

firebird7478
firebird7478

If you look around the media and in speaking with Republicans and Democrats, you'd think third parties don't exist. The media censors them and the R/Ds prevent them from appearing in debates. For all that effort, it is ludicrous to blame them when you don't win. Perhaps it's those negative campaign ads that did you in.

Davidp070
Davidp070

Another day, another dishonest LIEbertarian screed.

This collection of Birchers and egotists really misses no chance to try to claim relevance and hide their past. Libertarians "stand for" the same sort of nonsense they've been "standing for" since the civil war too: old, racist canards dressed up in lipstick and paraded around as if they were something new.

LIEbertarians claim they are for marriage equality, social equality. How do they claim they'll get there? By eliminating antidiscrimination laws, claiming their "free market" - the same one responsible for all the problems that led to us creating anti-discrimination laws in the first place - will somehow fix itself.

LIEbertarians claim they are for environmental stewardship and that the "free market" will provide it. The last time we let these lying toads have their way, their corporate overlords dumped so much factory waste into our environment that we had rivers catching fire and unbreathable city air.

LIEbertarians argue against trade unions, workplace safety laws, wage discrimination laws... their "free market" being supposedly able to handle everything that it never did before in the days when they had their way and these toads, these economic liars who eventually became the John Birch Society before founding the Libertarian Party, ran us into the Great Depression and the Gilded Age.

LIEbertarians are the worst sort of orwellian stooges, whose doublespeak knows no bounds and whose corruption knows no end.

Adam_Smith
Adam_Smith

@Davidp070Your description of "LIEbertarians" seems to be a better fit for the "Tea Party" faction of the GOP. The libertarians I know of are free market advocates primarily by being opposed to corporate welfare. Today's Libertarian Party is most distinguished from the major party duopoly by favoring a non-interventionist foreign policy.

Kymus
Kymus

@Davidp070Another two-bit hack that doesn't understand anything about the Libertarian Party but is willing to pretend they do anyway. What a shock!

"Another day, another dishonest LIEbertarian screed."

Ok, prove the author wrong.

"This collection of Birchers and egotists really misses no chance to try to claim relevance and hide their past. Libertarians "stand for" the same sort of nonsense they've been "standing for" since the civil war too: old, racist canards dressed up in lipstick and paraded around as if they were something new."

Libertarians are socially liberal and the party was started in the last 3 decades based on Classical Liberalism. I dunno where you get this idea that Libertarians were running around during the civil war.

"LIEbertarians claim they are for marriage equality, social equality. How do they claim they'll get there? By eliminating antidiscrimination laws, claiming their "free market" - the same one responsible for all the problems that led to us creating anti-discrimination laws in the first place - will somehow fix itself."

Go to the Libertarian Party's facebook page sometime. You'll see a number of banners and posts in support of marriage equality. The Libertarian Party supports laws in favour of marriage equality as an important first step with the final step being to get the government out of marriage entirely (consenting adults should be free to marry any other consenting adult(s) they choose. Having a law in support of this is not an ideal option since such laws can be repealed). The Libertarian Party does not believe in forcing one's personal views on to others who do not wish to conform to them. Therefore, the Libertarian free market ideology in regards to discrimination is very simple: if someone doesn't want to bake a cake for the local KKK's anniversary, they have every right to make that choice and can not be sued or otherwise bullied in to doing it. The individuals who were refused service can take their business elsewhere and they are welcome to tell all their friends about it.


"LIEbertarians claim they are for environmental stewardship and that the "free market" will provide it. The last time we let these lying toads have their way, their corporate overlords dumped so much factory waste into our environment that we had rivers catching fire and unbreathable city air."

We've never had a free market in America and the Libertarians have never had "their way". Who's calling who a liar, now?


"LIEbertarians argue against trade unions, workplace safety laws, wage discrimination laws... their "free market" being supposedly able to handle everything that it never did before in the days when they had their way and these toads, these economic liars who eventually became the John Birch Society before founding the Libertarian Party, ran us into the Great Depression and the Gilded Age."

Typically, you're taking a subject that you disagree on, that you also know nothing about in regards to the philosophy of Libertarianism, then you put your own spin and reason behind that. Again, who is calling who the liar here? It's one thing to say "I disagree with this method"; it's another to put intent there that does not exist.

Unions:
http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/regulation-and-industry/a-free-market-in-labour-libertarians-employment-and-the-unions


Workplace safety:
http://mises.org/daily/1143
http://mises.org/freemarket_detail.aspx?control=511

Discrimination:
http://mises.org/daily/3261

Oh and about your pet theory about Libertarianism causing the Great Depression: no. The Federal Reserve caused it. The same Federal Reserve that Libertarians rail against: http://www.wnd.com/2008/03/59405/


"LIEbertarians are the worst sort of orwellian stooges"

Funny, since Libertarians are more for civil liberties and personal responsibility than any other party.


"whose doublespeak knows no bounds"

Who are these nefarious Libertarians you speak of? Michael Badnarik and Lew Rockwell, or Rand Paul and Glenn Beck? One of those two groups isn't Libertarian.. I wonder if you even understand that.


"and whose corruption knows no end."

Hmmm, let's see.... whose campaign do crony corporations donate all their money to: Republicans, Democrats and... yeah, that's about it. Nice try, but that's a fail. Sorry.

I know this won't change your mind; it's obviously made up and you don't want to be confused with the facts. I'm sure you're also concocting some sort of conspiracy theory right now about me being paid by some corporate entity to shill for the Libertarian Party. You go on ahead and have fun with that :)

BruceMajors4DC
BruceMajors4DC

You are a remarkably ignorant person, a walking argument that public schooling is little more than an indoctrination center and lobotomy factory.

JamesAndersonMerritt
JamesAndersonMerritt

@Davidp070 I wonder where all the hand-wringers who have lately bemoaned the lack of "civility" in social discourse are hiding, now that an obvious propagandist has crawled out from under a rock to vomit the same type of abuse that libertarians have always had to put up with, certainly since I first started paying attention to libertarian politics (and third-party politics in general) in 1980. David has neither any real understanding of libertarianism, nor any true desire to discuss the facts and issues reasonably. Instead, like all hardcore partisan hacks, he puts whatever limited talent he may have at rhetoric to the task of eviscerating and marginalizing the enemy, preventing reasonable discussion and appealing to base instincts and reflexes. It was his type, you can be sure, who whipped up all "right thinking people" to allow racist, discriminatory laws to be passed in the first place, so that another generation of his type would have an opportunity to fill up the hole previously dug, by whipping up a new generation to repeal the bad laws, and then taking credit for being the "good guys" who were only motivated out of altruism for the victims of said laws. If you keep going around and in around in circles, led by the rhetorical noserings and reins held by the Davids of the world, you won't make any progress at all. David referred to Orwell. Orwell would have called David a "duckspeaker," a chanter of such thought-free slogans as "war is peace," or, if "Animal Farm" is more your cup of Victory Tea, "four legs good, two legs bad"! Read "1984" and "Animal Farm," if you haven't already. You will soon enough recognize David.

trutherator
trutherator

@Adam_Smith @Davidp070 Disingenuous to make the claim about the "Tea party faction". They are a many-faceted group, mostly just disgusted with dictates from unelected and elected petty dictators in Washington D.C. The Establishment hates them, just as with anything it doesn't control. That's why the mega-corporate national Chamber of Commerce has unmasked itself as an enemy of the so-called "Tea Party".

PersephoneK
PersephoneK

This boils down to crony politics at its worst.  The system is set up to bolster established parties, and beat down any competitors from gaining traction.  And sadly, the American people tend to accept this as the way it is.

BruceMajors4DC
BruceMajors4DC

Basically Republicans are arguing that you should not be free to buy a "shoddy" party platform, and so they will mandate that you buy one with all the coverage they know you need.

FreeMan
FreeMan

Many of the comments below suggest that a vote for a third party is an irrelevant vote. By this logic, any vote for a candidate that loses the election is an irrelevant vote. I do not vote so that my candidate wins. I vote for the candidate whose platform reflects most closely what I believe should be the direction of our country. My vote is my voice in the public debate, and my voice is not irrelevant. My vote is a moral choice. I cannot vote Republican or Democrat; neither of the two major parties represent me anymore. To do that would be for me to lie. I vote third party, not to win the election, but to have integrity with my own conscience. So, no, my vote for a Libertarian candidate is not a wasted vote. It is a moral choice and my public voice. I may be in the minority and be fighting a losing battle, but at least I have my integrity.

k.kaprow
k.kaprow

@FreeMan  

Well put. You SHOULD vote your conscience, ethics, principles. But if you want your vote to amount to something other than a tragic, ineffectual gesture -- if you want a seat at the adult table of politics -- you'll need to work within the two-party system. Few if any candidates for political office are wholly consistent and rational in their politics. You can find particles of "libertarian" thought in the party platforms of Democrats, Republicans, and even Socialists if you look hard enough. If your Libertarian candidate is so perfect that his ideas are unimpeachable and irresistible, why not run him as a Republican? Or a Democrat, for that matter. Nobody is stopping him from doing so. It's not as if there is an objective and binding definition of "Republican" or "Democrat." Let your candidate run on his ideas, and not the baggage associated with party affiliation. It wouldn't be the first time somebody has tried (and succeeded) with this strategy.

Adam_Smith
Adam_Smith

@k.kaprow  "if you want a seat at the adult table of politics -- you'll need to work within the two-party system".


I would rather say that if government wants to be of the People, by the People and for the People it will need to work with the actual preferences of the People -- outside of the two party straight jacket that restricts policy to the preferences of dueling governing elites. Of course, the government does NOT want that. It likes being autocratic and treating the People like peons not entitled to have real choices.



k.kaprow
k.kaprow

@Adam_Smith 

An all-too-common response typical of anarcho-libertarians who think "government" is an "occupying force" that has somehow seized power without the consent of the people. Anarcho-libertarians lose election after election, and then whine that "government" (their fellow citizens) are tyrants and dictators. Pro tip: if you want a voice in politics, get better ideas and better candidates, and stop crying like toddlers.

BuddyGuy
BuddyGuy

@k.kaprow "if you want a seat at the adult table of politics -- you'll need to work within the two-party system" 

Here we have a pathos driven false dichotomy. Pretty sad choice of wording to be honest. Try harder next time. 




Soupburger
Soupburger

@k.kaprow @Adam_Smith 

Ugh please, you're belligerent ignorance may be self affirming  but its ultimately just a bunch of hot air and it's terribly transparent. There is nothing inherently mature about the two party system, there are plenty of other "Adult Tables" throughout the world that have more than two parties.  Working within the two party system reinforces the two party system, you're argument isn't justified with anything other than the attitude that we have to play ball, that we have to play your game, as though all politics was some kind of idiotic team sport.  We don't want to have to sit there and cater to your ideals and try to win you over, we aren't looking to cater to every fool's ego like the other two parties. 

You clearly also don't have any understanding of Libertarianism as it is inherently "Anarcho" some of its original proponents were anarcho-socialists and anarcho-communists and later anarcho-capitalists. 

BruceMajors4DC
BruceMajors4DC

Actually Sarvis supporters spent $1 for every $45 Cuccinelli spent and for every $90 McAuliffe spent, while Sarvis got 1 vote for every 7 Cuccinelli or McAuliffe got. So the libertarian actually "won" in terms of cost effectiveness. And that's after they had to spend some of their time and resources to collect 18000 signatures to get on the ballot. So only corporate and union PACs giving the Democrats and a Republicans millions kept the Libertarian from winning.

MiloMinderbinder
MiloMinderbinder

A corrupt election and the American courts cost Gore the 2000 election, not Ralph Nader.

BruceMajors4DC
BruceMajors4DC

Bore's total lack of charm, charisma, or intelligence helped too.

DavidMengel
DavidMengel

Maybe it's time we give the libertarians a seat at the table so we can hear what they have to say instead of just exiling them to irrelevancy by not even allowing them in the election like we basically do now.  Libertarians simply want a smaller more responsible government, not one that has to control all aspects of your life.  Let the government stick to things the founding fathers intended on them to focus on like roads, border security, interstate and international commerce and worry less about things like how much sugar is in your soda and whether a congressman had an affair or whether a baseball players took steroids.  Nothing pisses me off more than forcing me to pay taxes so they can piss it away on irrelevant and wasteful activities

BruceMajors4DC
BruceMajors4DC

What is amusing about all the Republican whining, lies, and smears, one suspects started by the GOP consultant class that fears being fired for once again running a bad campaign, is that it is all going to happen again. The Virginia Libertarians were simply complying with a GOP authored restrictive ballot access law that dooms them to collect over 10,000 signatures from around the state each and every time they want to run a candidate for president, governor or Senate, until they finally have a gubernatorial candidate get 10%. It's the same law that kep all GOP contenders off their primary ballot last year except Romney and Ron Paul, because Newt and all the others couldn't get 10000 signatures.

fgoodwin
fgoodwin

A vote for the Libertarian Party (or ANY third party) is by definition a wasted vote.  If you stand for irrelevancy, vote third party.

MiloMinderbinder
MiloMinderbinder

@fgoodwin Any vote is a wasted vote.  The facade of a bifurcated system merely plays into the hands of a corporate oligarcy.  If you stand for relevancy, you cannot stand for the two-party system.

BruceMajors4DC
BruceMajors4DC

No a vote for the criminals and liars of the establishment parties is almost always a wasted vote. It's just giving up and saying "ok just be quick and let me keep my wallet" to your mugger or rapist.

k.kaprow
k.kaprow

Nobody is blaming libertarians for anything, because libertarians are irrelevant. They don't matter. You may as well blame a butterfly in Mexico for the weather in Scotland. Every election day, libertarians prove their value and appeal by losing, and losing badly. They are a joke party, almost as impotent as the Greens.

LeviDietrich
LeviDietrich

@k.kaprow What little bubble do you live in? I CONSTANTLY hear people blaming Libertarians!

WillTylerWhite
WillTylerWhite

Guess which party is responsible for pushing to end the failed Drug Prohibition War and getting the States out of regulating religion-based marriage unions?  It wasn't the Republicans or Democrats.   The Libertarian Party is the mainstream party of the future, and much more relevant than either of the two dinosaur parties.

BruceMajors4DC
BruceMajors4DC

Pumpkin, if they don't matter why do you trolls show up every time someone writes about them? Why do they keep getting permanent ballot status in new states, like we just did in November in Washington DC? Why do we run and elect more people every year locally? Why have our candidates recently improved their vote totals from the 1-2% range to the 5-20% vote range? Why do we spend so much less per vote than the GOP and Dems? Why have the libertarians who stay in the major parties taken over some county groups and youth chapters? Why do polls show a fourth of the public identifying as at least small l libertarians?