Are Greens and Libertarians Spoilers?

With Jill Stein receiving the Green Party nomination, media outlets are now speculating the chances of her being a spoiler to President Obama. This is after a wave of stories regarding Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson potentially being a spoiler to Mitt Romney.

Imagine Jill Stein of the Green Party capturing a mere 1 percent of the vote in a state like Ohio but throwing the state to Mitt Romney and the Republicans as a result. Likewise, Gary Johnson need only keep a small amount of the popular vote in a state like New Mexico to keep the Obama campaign alive there.

Ralph Nader is blamed for handing Florida to the Republicans in 2000. That charge is overstated but the popular impression hurt Nader and the causes with which he associates. It will not do the Greens or Libertarians any long term favors to be viewed as spoilers.

The author, Peter Ubertaccio, offers his own advice for third party candidates like Stein and Johnson:

Herewith a solution: don’t. Don’t run a national campaign and take the Nader risk. Run a selected state campaign in those states where the electoral college math is neither at risk nor in doubt. A state that is so reliably Republican or Democratic that your potential supporters know that supporting you will not risk throwing their state to the party they oppose. And then make that case explicitly.

For the Greens, why not focus on states like Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York and the District of Columbia. President Obama won the latter by a margin of 92 percent – 6 percent. His average victory in the first four was 34 points.

For the Libertarians likewise but why not Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Alabama, and the 3rd District of Nebraska. John McCain’s average in those five states and one district was just under 30 points.

A 5-6 state strategy would not earn either party the enmity of a good many of their somewhat natural supporters nationwide because they would not play the role of spoiler. It would give both the opportunity to demonstrate real strength in key states upon which they could eventually build real alternatives.

Read the whole article at the Huffington Post: On Greens and Libertarians

40 thoughts on “Are Greens and Libertarians Spoilers?

  1. zapper

    In December 1944, German forces launched what we call the Battle of the Bulge. The 101st Airborne Division was surrounded at the Belgian town of Bastogne. In response to the German surrender demand , Division Commander, General McAuliffe replied: “Nuts!”

    We may be surrounded and outnumbered, but we are winning.

    We, in the Libertarian Party, are winning the hearts and minds of the American people as more and more come to recognize and accept libertarian positions on the issues.

    If we would only advertise and promote ourselves effectively we could make 2012 a major growth year for our party.

    Obama has disappointed the public and few want to vote for him again.

    Romney provides no alternative to the voters.
    He is melting down day by day, rapidly becoming an embarrassment to Republican party members who at this point would surely love to dump him for one of the others left behind.

    Both parties have nothing to offer.

    We need to target our advertising by the size of the state – because cost of reaching the entire populace in a single Electoral College awarding entity, a State, is the one limiting factor we cannot ignore.

    Then, we need to expand and grow our outreach efforts as far and wide as we can, going Nationwide by election day.

    The Republican Party is dying. They will be replaced within the next few electoral cycles – if we give them a push.

    So, to Peter Ubertaccio, we must loudly and clearly declare that we will be the Army standing at the end. As dark as the skies seem now, as desperate is our lack of ammunition, we are on the right side in this political war and we will emerge victorious in the end, so we say to you … loudly and clearly …


  2. upstartgreen

    David Cobb tried this Strategy( safe states} in 2004 and it hurt the Green Party far more than Bush’s victory in Florida in 2000. Third parties are in the business of breaking up the TWO Party Monopoly not protecting the Corporate candidates from defeat. If Obama wanted people to vote for him instead of Stein he should have moved to the Left instead of the Right.


    McAuliffe had the 101 riding to his rescue. Who do we have? Bobby Lee eventually gave up to superior resources and the South later “won” through the Lost Cause and Jim Crow.

    I ran into a RonPaul voter in the public park yesterday. Not some casual supporter – he and some group at his church had discussed the Fed, etc. etc. When I told him I had met RP personally, he
    shook my hand and asked about strategy. I mentioned Gary Johnson. Blank look, “Who?”
    So I suggest a productive use of limited resources is
    to make sure all RP supporters know of Gary Johnson and his positions.

  4. Jill Pyeatt

    How can we spoil an election which has stunk to high heaven since the PTB decided who the candidates would be?

  5. NewFederalist

    Let’s see… IF Gary Johnson spoils the election for Romney AND Jill Stein spoils the election for Obama then who does Virgil Goode spoil it for? OMG! TWO Romney spoilers?!?! Obama wins!

  6. zapper

    @4 Ron Paul supporters will not begin looking for alternatives until after the Republican convention.

    We should not push them now.

    We should not annoy them or worry about them. They have pinned their dreams on Ron Paul and will resent our efforts to steal their hearts since they still have hope. When they are ready and have realized they have no date to the prom, they will come looking for us.

    Instead we need to make our push on broadcast TV – starting now. Increase public and media awareness of Johnson.

    Paul supporters will follow over time later in the fall.

  7. JohnJeremyVines

    Even if you buy the ridiculous “spoiler” argument (and I certainly don’t), you’d have to think Gov. Johnson and Dr. Stein would effectively cancel one another out. Seems the professional partisans are worried for naught.

  8. zapper

    ATBAFT // Jul 17, 2012 at 11:36 am

    “McAuliffe had the 101 riding to his rescue. Who do we have?”

    We have the 20% of the American public that is already ideologically libertarian, if we only reach out to them …

    and we have the majority of the American public that is fed up with the Ds and Rs, if only we follow a strategic advertising plan to reach them …

    Over time we will reach them, our principles will win out, even if we are delayed by our lack of marketing experience inside the party and the Johnson campaign.

  9. Thane Eichenauer

    If any given person is so locked into Ron Paul the candidate that he can see no other solution then indeed that person should be left alone.
    However, many (maybe even most) Ron Paul supporters have fully experienced more than one election cycle and will likely realize that politics is a full contact 24 hour a day wrestling match. If Ron Paul isn’t nominated by the Republican Party there are plenty of Ron Paul supporters who are willing to consider an alternative. Just as Libertarians should not hope beyond hope that Gary Johnson is elected president in November… even though this is the road that will lead some down the path to voting for the lesser of two evils.
    One should always be prepared for politics to turn in an unexpected direction and be prepared for it. There were plenty of people in 2008 who could not find Bob Barr to be worthy of their trust and support and found other causes to support.
    I am always willing to support the ideas Ron Paul promotes. One should never place all their bets on any given candidate.
    Always have a plan B (and C and D).

  10. Kyle Kneale

    If voters don’t want to vote for the primary two, I will be d@mned if Third Parties give them votes by not running viable campaigns.

    Although I see the logic behind the argument, The argument in itself is mildly insulting.

  11. paulie

    Sheesh, I don’t have internet for 4 days and not one person even calls out this silly article on the huge error that Libertarians draw votes from Republicans, when poll after poll and study after study show we draw just as many from the Democrats?

    And why would we want to see Obama or Romney elected or care which one does?

    The whole thing is ridiculous.

    We don’t steal votes, we earn them. They lose their voters because they don’t deliver on their promises. No one is entitled to a single vote except the person who casts it.

    And you can’t spoil something that’s already rotten.

    Enough with this ridiculous “spoiler” nonsense already! It was old a long time ago.

  12. NewFederalist

    Paulie @13… I said IF Gary Johnson spoils for Romney. I am also quite aware that Libertarians pull equally from the Demorepublicrats (perhaps even MORE from the Ds). I totally agree that the whole spoiler thing is really getting old but the lamestream media keep trotting it out and the sheeple who vote eat that shit right up!

  13. Gene Berkman

    In this election Gary Johnson can take votes from people who support legalizing marijuana, and had hope for Barack Obama in 2008.

    Since 2009 the federal government has raided a number of dispensaries in states that have legalized medical marijuana – another broken promise by President Obama. Right now the federal government is trying to close Harborside dispensary in Oakland, despite the wishes of the city of Oakland which licensed the dispensary and collects taxes from it.

    And Gary Johnson can get votes from Republicans who can never be certain what Mitt Romney really stands for.

    As for Jill Stein – good luck, but there really is little room to the left of President Obama among the American electorate.

  14. NewFederalist

    Gene- I think Dr. Stein’s niche is bashing corporations. Obama is so in their debt he can’t run from them.

  15. Richard Winger

    In the period 1872-1920, all political observers agreed that virtually all people who voted for the Prohibition Party would have voted Republican if the Prohibition Party had not been running.

    The Prohibition Party cost the Republicans two presidential elections, 1884 and 1916. After the 1884 election the Prohibition candidate, John P. St. John, was hung in effigy or burned in effigy all across the north, but angry Republicans. But after the 1916, when the Republicans again lost the election due to “spoiling” by the Prohibition Party, the Republicans in Congress decided to pass the prohibition amendment, which had been pending in Congress since 1875 but which had made no headway. The Republicans were sick of losing over the prohibition issue. This shows the power of minor party voters. “Spoiling” is a stupid name but it is a potent weapon and voters should not be intimidated into being afraid to use it. It is one of the few ways a small minority can have some leverage.

  16. NewFederalist

    Richard- using your example of the Prohibition Party just what signature issues could the Greens, Libertarians and Constitutionalists leverage to their collective and/or individual advantage?

  17. From Der Sidelines

    If minor parties are “spoilers” for an election process that is already spoiled by the corrupt major parties, then wouldn’t the net result be “unspoiling” and refreshing the election? 😀

  18. Jimmy

    I think Stein will hurt Obama more than Johnson will hurt Romney but I could be very wrong.

  19. Oranje Mike

    I do not believe in the notion of a spoiler in elections. Some claim Nader was a spoiler for Gore. These folks incredibly refuse to acknowledge Gore losing Tennessee. His home state. The same state that sent in to the Senate and cast electoral votes for Clinton in ’92 and ’96. If Gore had one Tennessee the election would have been his (regardless of the Florida outcome). Anyone that accuses Nader of playing spoiler are looking to make excuses for Gore’s own shortcomings.

    To call someone a “spoiler” assumes that someone else was ordained to win until the “spoiler” came into play.

    The media talks of spoilers in an attempt to discourage people to vote Libertarian, Green or any other party. Ironically, the spoiler talk is the most press alternative candidates will likely receive.

  20. Oranje Mike

    Jeebus Christo!

    Please forgive all the typos and atrocious grammar in #24

  21. VAGreen

    Why not a 5-state campaign?

    1. The media would not take it seriously, and understandably so.

    2. “A 5-6 state strategy would not earn either party the enmity of a good many of their somewhat natural supporters nationwide…”

    Yes, it would. Nader voters will be subjected to regular floggings in the media as long as there is a Democratic Party. Seriously. Some Democrats are still angry at the liberals who didn’t vote for Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

    From the less hostile, there will be an “Attaboy, now why don’t you drop out of the House and Senate races so that the Dems can have a majority back again.”

    3. No matter how much Greens explain the Electoral College, there will be plenty of liberals who will say “Well, I’m still worried about it anyway, so I’m voting for Obama”, or “Obama needs a big win in the popular vote so he can have a mandate to be more liberal in his second term.”

  22. Krieger

    The Green Party needs to run a strong campaign challenging the Democrats and Republicans in every state. David Cobb’s “safe state” strategy was an utter failure and gave the party is worst presidential result ever. If you want to be taken seriously as an opposition force, you have to actually fight back against those in power, not docilely submit to their rule.

  23. Pro-Establishment

    Each of your votes currently belongs to either Obama or Romney, one of the top two candidates. Voting for anyone else just hands your vote to the person farthest away from them ideologically. The lesser of two evils is still a lesser evil. There are significant differences between Obama and Romney, and one of those two will win no matter what. It is best to work within the system and decide between the top two candidates, as is now done in California because of the magnificent Proposition 14 for most elections. Anybody who truly can’t see the differences, and doesn’t even care which of the two big candidates wins, doesn’t deserve to vote. Only by adopting a runoff system like California top two can it be acceptable for other candidates to run. Even if you don’t like either Obama or Romney, that doesn’t matter; voting is a purely tactical move, not an expression of support. Go Obama! And go Virgil Goode since he will give votes to Obama.

  24. zapper

    @29 What you are advocating is called Communism.

    Even in the old USSR, they allowed two state approved candidates to compete against each other. Many citizens were like you and had no idea that the two choices were really the same thing. Sure they used different words but the outcomes of their policies had the same effects.

    In a free society, the voters can choose any candidate they like, and all serious candidates are allowed a place on the ballot in the general election.

    The “top-two” system is really a state-sponsored one party system. The outcome if adopted nationwide would be the same as the single-party soviet state electoral system.

    Obama and Romney are both evil. Voting for either is giving your approval to the evil deeds they will do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s one or the other if the outcome is evil. The more votes cast for alternatives the more it shows that the public is waking up.

  25. Robert Capozzi

    30 z: Obama and Romney are both evil.

    me: Unless you have a flawless evilometer, I can’t say I agree. They both have deeply dysfunctional ideas IMO, and neither seems willing to ask the deeper questions, much preferring to sweep such things under the rug.

    Z: Voting for either is giving your approval to the evil deeds they will do.

    me: Absurd. You are assigning responsibility both to the voter AND to the winning candidate when it seems quite clear to me that it’s a highly uncertain world in which consequences of most actions are not obvious in advance. Why the sanctimony knowing that? Why not just assume that many/most are not acting with self-honesty and elevated consciousness?

    z: It doesn’t matter whether it’s one or the other if the outcome is evil.

    me: The outcome will be the outcome. Outcomes are generally mixed. Intentions are almost always conflicted. If somehow GJ gets elected, I’m sure he’ll do something that I’d label dysfunctional and you’d label “evil.” Yet I will still vote for GJ.

  26. Melty

    If you look at Johnson/Gray’s main talking points, they’ve got every bit as much appeal to democrats as republicans. The article doesn’t make sense in the first place, but they could at least have asked “Are Green and Constitution Parties spoilers?” to at least be worthy of rebuke. This Ubertaccio guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  27. zapper

    @31 There is no need for a “flawless” evilometer to know that Obama and Romney are evil.

    Sure some things in life are in gray areas. We might not call a man who robs a bank with a threatening note but no weapon to get money for food for his family evil. Bad and wrong maybe, but evil, no.

    However, a man who enters the same bank and mows down everyone – men, women and children – with a machine gun, and then robs the bank is evil. My evilometer is accurate enough for that.

    And my evilometer is accurate enough to see that some of the outcomes of the positions and deeds advocated by Romney and Obama, and already undertaken by Obama are indeed EVIL.

    Wars that could be avoided, wars that could have been ended, extreme taxes on income, extreme taxes on property, massive deficits that engender poverty and unemployment – each of these things causes the deaths of hundreds, thousands and hundreds of thousands of innocents in the US and abroad. These policies are evil. We do not need to know the exact number of innocent victims to recognize evil. The outcome is not speculative. It is known in advance.

    Obama and Romney advocate evil policies.

    Their policies have known evil outcomes.

    The men are evil.

    They might care that their outcomes are evil, or they might be sociopaths, that I don’t know, but they are Evil men.

    True, some voters are unaware of the realities of the world. Perhaps they are innocent dupes. Naive, innocent, blameless.

    However, the most voters are discerning enough to realize that the policies being advocated by Obama and Romney are evil. They are not blameless. They are not the actual actors, so they are not accomplices in a criminal sense, but neither are they innocent. Like Pontius Pilate, they have blood on their hands that cannot be washed away with the water of denial.

  28. Robert Capozzi

    33 z, for my part, the machine gunner appears pronouncedly sick, but I don’t do the “evil” thing. It’s my practice to choose against all forms of projection, which itself is a sickness.

    Yes, if the current state of affairs is “evil” for you, then, yes, BHO and MR are part of the “evil” system. While there is a growing sense that something is dysfunctional in Denmark, I see no evidence that most people want a wholesale change in the citizen:State relationship, although there is always discontent on the margins for most.

    If your come from is that the vast majority are either “evil,” “dupes,” or enabling “Pilates,” then I would suggest that your are likely to get pushback (or be ignored) by them. I mean, if someone marched up to you and told you you’re evil or a dupe or Pilate, what would be your likely response? “Oh, gee, thanks, I was unaware of the error of my ways. Thank you for saving my soul.”

    Seems kinda unlikely, yes?

  29. zapper

    @34 I understand that your personal feeling regarding the word “evil” itself requires you to use an alternative adjective. That’s your personal choice.

    As to making the claim, in a public forum, that Obama or Romney are evil, I would agree that better word choices in communicating would be more likely to move listeners in our direction. For example, overall I like the recent Johnson ads very much for outreach: they are edgy but not offensive. Charged words such as “evil, sick, dupes” etc. are best left for discussions among individuals and not for mass communication and outreach.

  30. Robert Capozzi

    35 z, thanks for at least trying to understand. Even psychopaths, though, are not “evil,” just very confused.

    And, yes, tonally, GJ is getting close to the optimal positioning, IMO.

  31. paulie

    Anybody who truly can’t see the differences, and doesn’t even care which of the two big candidates wins, doesn’t deserve to vote.

    Taking this seriously for the sake of argument: what action would you prefer I take based on my sincerely held belief that Obama and Romney are equally disastrous if not vote for someone other than them?

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