Are Third-Party Voters to Blame When Democrats Lose?

third-party voters, Greens, Libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, 2016 Presidential Election
Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) and Jill Stein (Green Party) are often blamed for taking votes away from Hillary Clinton in 2016. Why are third-party voters often blamed for Democratic defeats?

In April, CalicoJack posted a meme based on last year’s presidential election. In short, the meme equated a vote for third-party candidates to being a vote for Trump. Third-party voters were being blamed in advance throughout 2016 and with all due respect, I disagree with that notion.

Basically, a vote for Trump was a vote for Trump. Of course, there are plenty of people throwing shade at Trump voters. Others have decided to retract their claws when dealing with those voters and instead go after other liberals, third-party voters, and nonvoters.

Just today, I got an angry post from an ignorant person because I questioned the efficacy of liberals biting each other’s heads off because of what happened in November 2016. That person also proved all my points, though.

You wanna know why this person was ignorant? In 2016, I told others that voting for Clinton (at least in the states where she needed the electoral votes) gave them a better chance getting some of their progressive platform items passed. I just wanted Clinton to each out more to disaffected voters (instead of Republicans who hated her guts). So I don’t know why this … individual was getting mad at me.

Speaking of third parties, though: A vote for a third-party candidate was more complicated then it looked on the surface. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s look at why people may have voted third-party. Let’s take a look at the numbers while we’re at it.

Let’s Address Why Some American Voters Chose Third-Party Candidates.

The reasons why people voted third party are more complicated than most of us will readily admit. We Americans essentially have a two-party system, but not everyone wants to votes for either of the two parties.

Now, this gets into some things I want to say in my ongoing series (We Need to Talk About the Rift on the Left), but here are a few reasons why people voted for third-party candidates:

1. Some Third-Party Voters Didn’t “Belong” to Either of the Two Major Parties.

In that group were people who were registered Greens and registered Libertarians. If they voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, the primary reason they voted for them was to help their respective parties.

Did you know that parties who garner at least 5% of the popular vote get $10 million for the next presidential election cycle? Thus the reason some people voted third party was to make sure there would be at least 3 viable choices for the next presidential election.

2. Not All of Those Third-Party Votes Would Have Gone the Way We Think.

Even if all of these voters decided to vote for one of the two major candidates, would ALL of those votes have gone to Clinton? I beg to differ.

Look at Gary Johnson. He garnered more votes than Jill Stein across the country and if anything, he was “taking more votes away” from Trump.

Libertarians are socially liberal in general, but most of them lean Republican. For example, Rand Paul is a registered Republican, but he is a libertarian at heart. The same was true for his father, Ron Paul. And Gary Johnson originally ran as a Republican in the 2012 primaries then he switched over to the Libertarian Party and became their candidate for the general elections.

There’s more:

Bill Weld, a one-time Republican, was Gary Johnson’s running mate. Some Republicans — including 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney — were somewhat attracted to that ticket because of Weld’s presence. How many voters like this choose Gary/Weld instead of voting for either Trump or Clinton?

3. There Were People Who Participated But Refused to Vote Either for Trump and Clinton Based On Policy.

Most people on the left (including those who preferred Sanders in the primary) voted for Clinton, despite key differences in policy. Most people (including me) may have felt Clinton was clearly the better candidate, at least on domestic policy.

She would not try to take health care away from 24 million people nor would she go after reproductive rights. Her telecom policy was better, she at least knows what net neutrality is, and she wouldn’t put Ajit Pai’s corporatist butt as FCC chair.

But believe it or not, there were many dissenters who also did their research on both Trump and Clinton and came away not liking what they saw from either candidate. They wouldn’t budge, but they might have still voted for Democrats on the down ticket, because this wasn’t just about the presidency.

Others may have just stayed home or written in Harambe.

4. Even More People Looked at the Trends of Both Parties in Power and Mistrusted the Democrats to Advance Particular Policies.

I voted for all the Democrats I could throughout the down ticket because I knew congressional Republicans would do much of what they would be doing now — if they decided to work with Trump. But did any of us expect them to be blatant, though? Regardless, I doubted voting for Trump would blow up the systems and I knew it would give the Republicans more power and another Supreme Court pick.

However, not everyone saw it that way, unfortunately. Am I mad at them? Yes, but I understand their reasoning in some cases.

5. Some People Who Voted Third Party Did So Because They Felt It Wouldn’t Necessarily Hurt Clinton.

While they might not have liked her, they preferred her to Trump but felt their vote would not make a difference. In short, these were protest votes. And for some voters, that was calculated risk.

For instance, there were protest votes in some solidly blue or red states. If someone in say, Tennessee, voted for a third-party candidate, Trump was going to win that state anyway. The same is true for most of the coastal states, including California.

Let’s Look at What the Numbers Say.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. But the important thing to remember is that the president is decided by the Electoral College. That means presidential candidates have to campaign strategically in states so they can get enough electoral votes.

Speaking of particular states …

The states we really need to look at are the swing states, and especially the “Rust-Belt” states Obama won but Clinton lost. Those are Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which Trump won by razor-thin margins.

Now, here’s where I’m going to through some statistics. I was doing some research a few months ago because I wanted to see if third-party candidates had an effect (if any), especially in those Rust-Belt states.

On the surface, it would seem that the numbers support the notion that the third-party candidates decided the election, but they don’t tell the whole story.


In Michigan, Trump supposedly won by 10,704 votes.

Here is a quick breakdown:

  1. Donald J. Trump got 2,279,543 votes.
  2. Hillary Clinton got 2,268,839 votes.
  3. Gary Johnson got 172,136 votes.
  4. Jill Stein got 51,463 votes.

While Stein’s total eclipses the margin of Trump’s victory, but did you know Jill Stein wanted the recount there to focus on 75,000 votes that were not being counted in Detroit? That was a mostly black area and Trump ally Bill Schuette had that recount called off.

Also, the district judge said Stein could not force a recount because she was not the aggrieved party. Hillary Clinton was the aggrieved party because she came in second place there. Why didn’t she force the issue, then?


In Pennsylvania, Trump supposedly won by 44,292 votes.

Here’s a quick breakdown for that state:

  • Donald J. Trump garnered 2,970,733 votes.
  • Hillary Clinton garnered 2,926,441 votes.
  • Gary Johnson garnered 146,715 votes.
  • Jill Stein garnered 49,941 votes there.

Well, it looks like Stein’s votes eclipse Trump’s margin of victory again. But would all those votes have gone to Clinton if Stein wasn’t in the race? What would have happened in only Trump and Clinton were in the race?

Regarding Jill Stein voters:

Their numbers might not add up for Clinton, either. Jill Stein has cited polling that indicated that 61% of her voters might have just stayed home. Another 13% of them might have voted for Trump. The difference would not have covered the spread in this state, or the others.

Also, Stein called for a recount there, too, but was rebuffed.

Additionally, Pennsylvania is a state where votes are recorded via electronic machines. There is no paper trail there and those machines run on old software. Do you trust the vote was true there?


In Wisconsin, Trump supposedly won by 22,748 votes.

Here’s a quick breakdown there:

  • Donald J. Trump had 1,405,284 votes.
  • Hillary Clinton had 1,382,536 votes.
  • Gary Johnson had 106,674 votes.
  • Jill Stein had 31,072 votes.

Here’s another excuse to blame Stein again. But did you know she also called for a recall in this state, too.

Did you also know that there were more votes tallied for president in Wisconsin than there were people who voted? What went on there?

What About Nader in 2000?

For extra measure, I also looked at Ralph Nader’s performance in 2000. Nader once garnered prominence as a consumer advocate but he fast became a scapegoat because the number of votes he got in Florida eclipsed the amount of votes George W. Bush supposedly won by (537).

You want to know what I found? The numbers there are less convincing than Stein’s are (in terms of scapegoating).

Here are some statistics from Florida in 2000:

  • Democrat Al Gore got 87% of his party’s vote and 8% of the Republican vote.
  • Ralph Nader got 2% of the Democratic vote and 1% of the Republican vote.
  • George W. Bush got 91% of the Republican vote, but 11% of the Democratic vote!

Hold on there. Isn’t 11% more than 2%? How is Nader to blame, then? And why are we letting rogue Democrats off the hook?


Here are some more statistics:

  • As much as 59% of registered voters participated in the 2016 election.
  • Among Republicans, 88% voted for Trump and 8% chose Clinton.
  • Among Democrats, 89% chose Clinton, and 8-9% chose Trump.
  • Trump won independents by a 46%-42% margin.
  • Fifty-three percent of white women voted for Trump.

Again, why aren’t we yelling at the rogue Democrats?

What about white women? White men were being hated up and down the block (and 62% of them voted for Trump), but no one’s yelling at the women, are they?

So why are we singling out certain people?

This Is What I Want to Say

There are many factors that went into the 2016 results and it’s fruitless to just place the blame on one or just a few. There’s a lot we can learn, so why not look at all the answers?

And this might anger many of us, but doesn’t it behoove us to recognize why people voted the way they did? When we sometimes refuse to bark at Trump voters but instead go after each other, that behavior is a textbook example of cognitive dissonance.

If many of us can take a step back and try to understand why some people voted for Trump and have patience with them, why can’t we do the same for other liberals or independents? What if some of the people who voted third party were neither liberal nor conservative? What if none of them were registered to either of the two major parties?

Ultimately, what’s the point of doing this each other? If Trump is the enemy to some people, why are they treating any other voters like they’re the enemy? The people who are getting the most flack right now are opposed to his policies and refuse to make excuses for him.

They did not put Trump in the White House because they did not vote for him. If no one voted for Trump, he would not garnered any electoral votes.

We’re acting like criticism alone magically makes Democrats lose. That’s preposterous.

And more importantly, what if there are forces out there that contributed more to Trump’s electoral victory than all the people receiving the lion’s share of blame right now? From what I found, these forces do indeed exist, and that’s what I really want to talk about.

So, this is a kind of two-parter.

2 thoughts on “Are Third-Party Voters to Blame When Democrats Lose?

  1. Howdy Shmaltz!

    I get your point. To a degree, I agree, but for one thing: we have a binary system. Whatever reason a person might have for voting for a “third” party candidate (anyone other than a Dem or Rep) or just not voting, your only practical choice in our system is between the Dem or Rep candidate. That is our system. That’s what we have. A binary system. A two party system.

    If you reduce the choice to that then, logically, you’ve either voted for the loser or helped the winner win. A vote for the candidate who eventually loses the election is a vote for the loser. A vote for the candidate who eventually wins the election is a vote for the winner. Any vote not cast for the loser, which might could conceivably help the loser become a winner, then is by default a vote that helped the winner win. This exists regardless of the actual numbers of votes cast or reasons they were cast. It simply the way the system works.



    1. We not only have a binary system, but a democratic republic. The Electoral College played a bigger role, in the end.

      In those swing states Clinton needed to focus on, the votes for third-party candidates might not have made a difference. As I said above, most of Jill Stein’s voters would have stayed home. And a percentage might have outright voted for Trump. Either way, those votes for Stein didn’t hurt Clinton. Also add in what I said about Gary Johnson’s voters.

      The other factor in this — a greater factor than third-party voters — is voter suppression. This is an underrated phenomenon in American politics. It isn’t discussed enough and it’s one of the things the George W. Bush Justice Department worked to advance.

      Liked by 1 person

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