Thursday, January 01, 2004


In a post on Alas, a blog about a week and a half ago, ampersand wonders whether he did the right thing voting for Nader in 2000. I find much of ampersand's writing insightful, but this post struck me as myopic, focusing on a few areas where one could argue that Gore and Bush are "about the same," and ignoring the many areas where Bush is much worse.

But here I want to focus, not on the short-term effects of Nader's run, but on the strategic goals of some Greens, including ampersand. One of the reasons ampersand gives for having voted for Nader is to stop the Democratic Party from taking progressives' votes for granted, and thereby, hopefully, force it to the left. The trouble with this is that, given the current state of public opinion, a Democratic Party that was substantially to the left of where it is now would almost certainly lose (unless Bush's policies lead to an obvious disaster--i.e. one that even the media can't ignore--by Election Day 2004). "But this," you will cry, "sounds like the DLC!" If so, then so be it. I don't like the DLC's positions, and I was disgusted by their "pre-emptive strike" at Dean earlier this year, but we won't get anywhere sticking our heads in the sand, and it's a fact that the only two Democrats elected to the Presidency in the last thirty-five years were both DLC-type Democrats. (It's rather discouraging to think that there are plenty of people who have never seen a liberal in the White House in their lifetimes, who have children old enough to vote.)

To be sure, it's an article of faith among progressives, whether they're Greenies or not, that Gore "lost" in 2000 (that is, didn't win by a large enough margin to place his victory beyond dispute) because he wasn't liberal enough. I'd like this to be true, but unfortunately, the evidence doesn't bear it out. If anything, he was too liberal. According to exit polls, Gore preserved Clinton's 1996 lead (that is, the margin by which Gore's support exceeded Bush's in 2000 was equal to or greater than the margin by which Clinton's support exceeded Dole's in 1996) among liberals and among Democrats. On the other hand, Gore lost ground among Republicans (Bush's lead over Gore among this group was 83%, while Dole's lead over Clinton had been 67%, a loss of 16 points for Gore), Independents (-2 (i.e. Bush led Gore by 2) vs. 8, a loss of 10 points), moderates (8 vs. 24, a loss of 16 points), and conservatives (-64 vs. -51, a loss of 13 points). Looking more closely at the Independent category, we see that among liberal Independents, Gore's margin was actually greater than Clinton's (51 vs. 43 points), even though this subgroup was the most likely, by far, to vote for Nader. But Gore lost ground among moderate Independents (3 vs. 20 points) and conservative Independents (-62 vs. -41 points). Gore's main problem was not that he alienated the left; it was that he lost some of Clinton's support among moderates, conservatives, Independents, and Republicans, while failing to attract voters from these groups who had voted for Perot in 1996.*

Looking at the Electoral College results confirms this picture. Setting Florida aside, the states carried by Clinton but not by Gore were Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia. All but two of these are in the South or West; it's highly unlikely that he would have won any of these by being more liberal.

Our problem, as progressives, isn't the two-party system, the DLC, or the Democratic "bosses." It's that we can't convince a majority to vote for candidates who support our positions. I don't know the solution to this. But the Green Party is at best a distraction from finding one. At worst, it makes the problem worse, by encouraging the tendency of progressives to talk only to each other.

Addendum: Some Greens, reading this, may demand to know how I can say that Gore would not have won if he were more liberal, while also saying that he would have won had Nader not run. The answer is simple. Had Gore moved to the left, he would have picked up some of Nader's voters, but lost votes to Bush among Independents, Republicans, moderates and conservatives. Not only are there more of the latter than of the former, but since each voter who switches from Gore to Bush adds two to Bush's margin, Gore would have had to pick up two votes from Nader supporters for each Gore voter who switched to Bush just to stay even. Moreover, most of the voters Gore would have gained from Nader would have been in safe states, whereas the voters lost to Bush could well have tipped further states into Bush's column. If Nader had not run, on the other hand, Gore would have picked up more voters than Bush among Nader's voters, while not losing any votes among other groups.

*Poll data taken from the New York Times, Nov. 12, 2000, sec. 4, p. 4. The poll was conducted by Voter News Service, and had 13279 respondents. Gore also retained Clinton's lead in all three subgroups of Democrats, and lost ground among all three subgroups of Republicans.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?