Let’s put this “Nader cost Gore the election in 2000” thing to rest once and for all

I just posted the following on Lawrence Lessig’s blog. Lessig, a (dare I say) brilliant professor/lawyer who has written prolifically about the intellectual property crisis, has bought into the nonsensical claim that Nader cost Gore the election in 2000. Here is my response:

Professor Lessig,

I am troubled by your buying in to the hype of claiming that “Nader cost Gore the 2000 election.” This claim is nonsense by any scientific or analytical standard. While it is true that Nader received thousands of votes in Florida, and that Bush “won” Florida by 537 votes, your claim suffers from compounded causes.

A few points to consider: first, five third-party or independent candidates each received thousands of votes (Nader, Browne, Buchanan, Phillips, Hagelin), well more than 537, yet Nader alone gets the blame for costing Gore the election. The fact is that nearly every election in America has two candidates getting the vast majority of votes, with the non-duopoly candidates fighting for the few remaining scraps dropped from the table. Nader was firmly in this latter camp in 2000.

Second, your claim does not account for the impact Nader had on the political landscape in 2000. How many people who would not otherwise have voted were inspired to go to the polls in 2000? This group of voters undoubtedly includes voters from across the political spectra: progressive/green candidates disillusioned with the two-party system, right-wingers terrified of what Nader — or Gore, for that matter — stands for, and also disillusioned democrats who went out to vote because they were afraid that Nader would cost Gore votes. Though specific numbers from 2000 are impossible to come by, it is quite possible that Nader inspired MORE people to vote than the number of votes he received. Sadly, the breakdown of these numbers, of where these votes went, is impossible to know.

Third, Gore’s campaign was one of the most poorly run in history. Gore failed to inspire voters, performed terribly at the debates against Bush, and failed to go for the jugular in his campaigns. Gore should have blown Bush out of the water in the debates, but instead he came across as wishy-washy, spineless, and without his own vision. This fact, in my view, was most important as to why the election was even close in the first place.

Fourth, Gore technically did win the election. Bush was in effect appointed by the Supreme Court. But hey, this is America; just because you get the most votes, doesn’t mean you win the election.

I agree that it’s important that Bush is not reelected this year, and that Nader will, no matter what his decision about running this year, influence the election in 2004. But the fact that Bush is the current occupant of the White House cannot be blamed solely on Nader. There were too many factors at work.

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