Crash & Burn

Those of us who were hoping for a big upturn in the vote for third-party Presidential candidates this year were sorely disappointed. In a column posted here two days ago, I expressed the hope and expectation that Bob Barr would get two to three times as many votes as Michael Badnarik received in 2004. The reality was far different. As I write this, about 121.6 million votes have been tallied, with Barr getting 488,449 or 0.40%. Ralph Nader did about 35% better, with 655,847. As additional votes are logged, everyone's totals should rise by as much as 10%.

No national totals are available so far for Chuck Baldwin and Cynthia McKinney, but based on very sketchy data it appears that Baldwin may have received 200,000 to 250,000 votes, while McKinney received less than 200,000.

In my last column, posted two days ago, I suggested that one fair measure of the alternative candidates' performance would be how much their vote totals increased vs. their performance (or their party's performance) in 2004. Using this measure, Nader is up about 40% so far and Barr has surpassed Badnarik by about 23%. (These figures will rise as additional votes are reported.) Baldwin may have beaten the 2004 CP total of 143,860 by as much as 75%, almost entirely due to Ron Paul's endorsement.

None of these numbers give any of the candidates or their supporters much reason to rejoice. If anything, they demonstrate, once again, that relatively unknown and hugely underfunded third-party candidates cannot realistically compete at the Presidential level.

Barr's showing of 0.40% puts his results right in line with other Libertarian Presidential campaigns. In 1988, Ron Paul received 0.47% of the popular vote total. In 1992, Andre Marrou got 0.28%. In 1996, Harry Browne got 0.50%, and in 2000 he got 0.36%. In 2004, Michael Badnarik received 0.32%. The average percentage for the last five elections was thus 0.39% — almost exactly what Barr got this time. The argument that by going “mainstream” the LP could improve its results by a factor of ten or more proved to be completely false. The Libertarian ticket would most likely have gotten a very similar vote total with Root, Ruwart or Kubby as the nominee.

Barr's best showing was in Indiana, where he received more than 1% of the vote, and narrowly beat the spread between Obama and McCain. Barr was the only “alternative” choice on the ballot in that state. His next-best showing was in his home state of Georgia, where he received about 0.75%. Third-best: Texas, with 0.70%. In both Georgia and Texas, as in Indiana, Barr was the only alternative to Obama and McCain. Other states where Barr broke 0.50% include Wyoming, North Carolina, Arizona and Kansas. It appears that the only state where both Barr and Nader were listed on the ballot and Barr beat Nader was Arizona.

Ron Paul's name appeared on the ballot in two states: Montana and Louisiana. He received about 2.1% in Montana and about 0.5% in Louisiana. In several states, his endorsed choice for President, Chuck Baldwin, did better than Barr. These included ultra-conservative Utah (1.25%), along with Idaho (0.7%), South Dakota (0.5%), Nebraska (0.4%) and, oddly, liberal Oregon (0.4%). Quite probably, Paul's endorsement boosted Baldwin's showing in these and other states, but the total “Paul effect” was apparently less than 50,000 votes nationwide.

(Please note: All of the above figures and percentages are based on incomplete data. As many as 12 million votes have not yet been reported, with 5 million or more uncounted in California alone. So if some of these numbers later prove to be slightly off, bear that in mind!)