LOOKING AWAY FROM FLORIDA How 78,000 Greens Sent a Message to Gore
by Christian Leopold Shea.
© 2000 by Christian Leopold Shea. All rights reserved.
While the lemmings of the mass media have focused national attention on the Presidential vote in Florida, astute observers of the vote break-downs, state by state, will have noticed something inescapable: 78,000 Greens in New Hampshire and Oregon had the power to deny the Presidency (or at least an Electoral College win) to George W. Bush, but instead sent a loud message: the lesser of two evils is still evil in their eyes, and they will not support a candidate they dislike or mistrust simply because they loathe the other candidate more.
In eight states -- Florida, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin -- the Electoral College votes of the state were won by a candidate who failed to gain a majority of the popular vote. So tight was the 2000 Presidential election that Florida’s 25 electoral votes (which still hang in the balance as of the time of this writing), which can carry either Bush or Gore over the top in the Electoral College also hinged on the voters who cast their ballots for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader Although Nader achieved only 3% of the popular vote nationally, and only 2% in Florida, the distribution of his votes across the country is highly significant. Assuming that most Greens regard Gore as the lesser evil versus George W. Bush, and that a Nader vote was almost certainly a vote taken away from Gore, the 22,000 plus Nader voters in New Hampshire and the more than 56,000 Nader voters in Oregon allowed George Bush to carry the electoral votes of their states by squeaking past Gore with a marginal lead. If Florida’s recount gives Bush the victory, Al Gore will have been denied the Presidency by the fewer than 100,000 Greens in Florida who voted for Nader.
Ironically, even if Bush carries Florida, it was his skin-of-his-teeth victories in New Hampshire and Oregon which will have guaranteed his Presidency. Florida’s electoral votes would give Bush just 271 electoral votes, a margin of only two votes. Had the Democratic Party been able to deny Bush either the four electoral votes of New Hampshire or the seven electoral votes of Oregon, a Bush victory in Florida would be meaningless: neither candidate would have had a majority of the electoral votes and the Presidental election would have been decided by the House of Representatives. No laws govern for which candidates members of the House of Representative must vote. Given George Bush’s total lack of experience in diplomacy and national decision-making, even a Republican-controlled House might have given the Presidency to Gore, who has, after all, been President of the Senate for the past eight years.
What do these decisive Nader votes mean for the Republican and Democratic Parties? Simply, the two leading parties can no longer afford to ignore the issues raised by Green and other “third party” candidates, and must make clear (and distinctive!) stands on these issues. The distribution of the states in which Green and other “third party” candidates denied majorities to Gore or Bush are highlighted by a glance at the electoral map. Three of the eight states were in the Midwest, one was in the Northwest, one in the Northeast, one in the Southwest, and one in the Southeast -- the four corners and the heartland of the United States.
Examining other significant races shows that disaffection with the Democratic and Republican parties is not limited to these eight states, but includes surrounding states, too. In New Hampshire, Democratic incumbent Governor Jeanne Shaheen was denied a majority by “third party” votes. In Vermont (where Nader racked up 7% of the popular vote), incumbent Democratic Governor Howard Dean barely attained a simple majority for re-election; tellingly, his Republican opponent, Ruth Dwyer, scored only 39% of the votes cast, with 11% going to candidates from other parties. In United States Senate races, Democrats Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, won with a less than majority vote. Washington’s incumbent governor, Republican Slade Gorton, and his Democratic rival, Maria Cantwell, were both denied majorities by the 2.57% racked up by Libertarian candidate Jeff Jared and that election is still undecided at the time of writing.
Mere weight of numbers and percentages of votes do not tell the story of this disaffection with “the Two Party System” -- in Alaska, Ralph Nader achieved 10% of the popular vote, and in Vermont 7%, but Bush and Gore were clearly the respective winners of those states. The nearly 400,000 votes Nader received in California and the nearly quarter-million he earned in New York did nothing to change the outcome of the Presidential race in either state. Looking at the Electoral College map, however, shows that in the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the Northeast, however, Greens and Libertarians demonstrated that disaffection with the Republican and Democratic parties is so high that people are willing to vote for a sure-fire loser than vote for a candidate whom they find unacceptable, even if that decision to cast a maverick vote may change the outcome of an election.
Whoever gains the Presidency in 2001, it is nevertheless clear that the Republican and Democratic parties have lost the confidence of enough voters that the two parties must redefine themselves and clarify their political positions as distinctive from each other, or the millions of dollars each party spends on elections will hinge, ultimately, not on party loyalists, but on disaffected voters.
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About the author – Christian Leopold Shea is an internationally known film critic. He was a member of the first elected Los Angeles County Council of the Green Party of California.
© 2000 by Christian Leopold Shea.