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Opinion: Spoiler Alert

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We now know that Al Gore beat Bush in the 2000 election but officially lost due to Republican mischief. At the time, Democrats barely made a peep about the fact that Republicans literally stole the election. Instead they accused Ralph Nader of ‘stealing’ votes from Gore and thereby helping Bush win.

When Nader ran again in 2004, notable leftists such as Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore scolded him for jeopardizing John Kerry’s chance of winning. Leftists still blame Nader for eight years of Bush.

Nader’s unforgivable sin was that he ran for office on a platform that was superior to both Gore and Kerry’s. Running for office on a progressive platform was viewed as irresponsible since it might siphon votes from status quo Democrats. In the topsy-turvy Twilight Zone of U.S. politics, civic responsibility means excellent candidates shouldn’t challenge the Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats refer to third party candidates like Nader as “spoilers” because they ruin the Democrats’ monopoly on liberal voters. Democrats are right to sweat about losing that monopoly since most liberals have values that perfectly align with third party candidates like Nader. However, liberals feel compelled to vote for Democrats in order to fend off Republicans.

Given this arrangement, instead of saying third party candidates steal votes from Democrats, it would be more accurate to say Democrats steal votes from the third parties. If your vote is your voice, then your vote is stolen when you feel forced to vote for things you oppose.

For example, many people felt forced to vote for Obama even though they oppose his policies. People who oppose aggressive war, torture, invasive surveillance, big bank bailouts, corporate welfare, Wall Street’s increasing political power, widespread penury, punishing whistleblowers, drone warfare, fracking, drug wars, the PATRIOT Act, imperial reach, the prison-industrial complex, the military-industrial complex, building more nukes and government secrecy were forced to vote for all those things since they were part of the Obama package.

When it comes to these issues, voters could’ve eeny, meeny, miny, moed between Obama and Romney and got the same policy. And yet we’re told that third parties are spoilers.

Much like the Lily-White Republicans thought blacks shouldn’t be allowed to vote, Democrats think Greens shouldn’t be allowed on the ballot. Both are acts of political exclusion.

And while these schemes of minimizing voter participation and voter choice are an affront to democracy, an equally insidious problem flows from the manner in which the U.S. does vote-casting and counting. The U.S.’s ‘first-past-the-post’ plurality voting fails to capture the complexity of voter preference. To account for this deficiency, the U.S. could implement ‘approval voting’ where voters can select all the candidates who’ve earned their approval, and the candidate with the most votes wins. This would allow people to vote for both Nader and Gore or Nader and Kerry, thereby eliminating the kingmaker scenario that splits votes between two worthy candidates, thus enabling the most unworthy candidate to win. But an even better method is ‘instant-runoff voting’ which allows voters to indicate their preferences by ranking candidates in order of approval. For example, in the 2000 election, voters could’ve marked the ballot like this:

  • Ralph Nader
  • Al Gore
  • George Bush


  • Al Gore
  • Ralph Nader
  • George Bush

Again, this method would eliminate the vote-splitting spoiler effect and allow voters to express their preference for Nader while still enabling Gore to beat Bush. Not only that, but depending on how the votes divvy up, this would also allow Nader to beat both Bush and Gore.

The American Experiment has petrified into a system of dueling evils in which we’re told to pick the lesser evil. People will acknowledge that third parties are better, but then they’ll say you have to vote Democrat because ‘we have to deal with where we are.’ But this strategy of dealing with where we are just keeps us where we are. All the formulas for strategic voting within the two-party trap insure that things get worse.

The real spoiler effect occurs when people feel unsafe in voting for candidates with whom they agree. But people shouldn’t care about spoiling things for the Democrats or Republicans since the Democrats and Republicans keep spoiling things for the people.

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