The disappointing third-party vote in 2008

David Weigel of Reason takes a look at the votes for Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, Chuck Baldwin, and Cynthia McKinney, all of which were disappointing to their backers and in historical context. He then concludes:

So if you add together Paul with the four candidates he gathered at the National Press Club to endorse (and include Barr, who was invited), Paul’s favored candidates got around 1.5 million votes. In a historical perspective, that’s… not that impressive, still. Ralph Nader got almost twice as many votes in 2000, and John Anderson got almost four times as many in 1980. It’s a bigger third party vote than 2004, but not by much.

Why was this if everyone told the pollsters they were furious with the way the country was going and hated the two parties? I’d say it’s because there was a Democrat and a Republican that people basically liked, but that wouldn’t explain why 1988 third party voting was so low. I’m not hearing any of this discussed in the rest of the media, so Bob Barr’s complaint from Ron Paul’s presser rings true: The way to keep attention on libertarian political arguments was to consolidate behind one candidate. For all of Paul’s flaws, his totals in Montana and Louisiana indicate that he probably could have run a Nader 2000-style campaign and gotten about Nader’s 2.8 million votes.

33 Responses to “The disappointing third-party vote in 2008”

  1. spinnikerca Says:

    I think Barr didn’t get more votes because he was a disappointing candidate; that is certainly why he didn’t get mine. I wrote in Ron Paul, in California, which is a populous state where Baldwin was also a write in candidate, I believe. Since write in votes won’t come in from California until December 2, per the registrar’s office there, the tallies may change.

    However, I think the election was polarized, and people were scared - literally SCARED - of Obama on the one side, and either energized or outraged at Bush on the other. That exacerbated the ‘I don’t want to throw my vote away’ mentality.

    My view is that the success of Ron Paul’s strategy, or lack thereof, will be in how much we can impact policy. If we can create coalitions with other third party interests to, say, repeal the Patriot Act, or avoid another bailout, I would consider that ‘success’.

  2. Joe Says:

    Our trackback program isn’t working properly, so I wanted to make sure you got credit for one of our posts:

  3. DonaldRaymondLake Says:

    Having missed out on voting in 1968 and having been disappointed in both Dems and GOP types ever since, I have OFTEN written in ‘Mickey Mouse’ and other protest names.

    Just be aware, while this constitutionally viable yet personal rip off of the Electorial College is still around, your write in vote [Ralph Nader in California P2004] needs to be in concert with a slate of federal electors.

    Just another reason to abolish the establishment’s choke hold on the electorate’s avenue toward full expression.

    “We have met the enemy and he is us” [Walt Kelly in Pogo the comic strip] 1963

  4. NewFederalist Says:

    Perhaps the vast majority of voting Americans are just happy with things as they are. I don’t have a clue whay that would be but the vote totals could certainly be interpreted as such.

  5. joey Says:

    I think it’s pretty obvious why third parties did so poorly this year: Obama. He’s not Gore and he’s not Kerry, and no matter how much we consistent third party voters claim that the two parties are two sides of the same coin, his presence in the election was historic enough and forceful enough to siphon away former third party voters. I didn’t vote for him, but damned if he isn’t charismatic and damned if he didn’t run a fine campaign.

    Barr created an interesting rift in the LP, with the suit-and-tie brigade of radical Republicans on one side and the anti-establishment libertarians on the other. I didn’t vote for Barr either because I don’t trust his libertarian credentials, but it would be nice to have someone Barr-like (read: known, respected, experienced). I know it’s been tossed around quite a bit, but it would be really beneficial to us third party voters if we could find some sort of Unity Alliance between Greens and Libertarians. Despite our differences, we have so much in common: anti-corporatism, anti-war, pro-diplomacy, against corporate subsidies, ravenously pro-civil liberties. If we could put aside our economic differences and pledge to support the other party in lower-level races, then possibly the same presidential candidate (someone who’s strong on peace and civil liberties, but less ideological on economic issues), I think we’d have a much better chance of making our case in the national dialog.

  6. citizen1 Says:

    When all of the votes are counted Baldwin set a record for CP presidential vote. This despite not being on the ballot in CA and TX. Two of the biggest states and two states that they were on when the record was set.

  7. citizen1 Says:

    Libertarian and Green unity alliance? I do not see both able to back thhe same candidates. In CT there have been talks with the LP, CP, GP, and IP not to back one candidate but to not compete against each other in most cases by allowing the parties to basically be the only third party on the ballot in the areas that each in the strongest. There have also been seperate talks with the CP and LP to try to find candidates that they can both back especially for local office and other office where their difference would be minimized.

  8. joey Says:

    Citizen - I don’t see why not. I think the Libertarians capture a lot of fringe voters from all of the third parties. I’m a former Green turned Libertarian, and really all I changed were my economic views. Most CP members are really just Libertarians who listen to too much conspiracy radio and like using the word sodomite. Non-competition agreements are great, but they’re not enough. No one is representing civil libertarians, and civil liberties are the major issue for most Greens and most Libertarians. I think there are a number of possible Green/Libertarian alliance candidates out there just waiting for the infrastructure. Green Libertarians could easily become what the Reform Party should’ve been: a fiercely independent, civil-liberties focused, reformist political organization with a lot of room for candidates to respond to the needs of their constituencies.

  9. Donna Says:

    So, how many votes did Alan Keyes get in CA?

  10. Carol Says:

    I think the reason that the vote was so low is that libertarians eat their young.
    The flame-throwing on the Third Party blogs is often shocking, especially when you consider that the message is non-aggression.

  11. GreenGenes Says:

    Each party is competing for 5% of the popular vote for federal funding. Many states parties need to get a portion of the vote in their respective states to get/maintain their ballot lines in those states.

    For that reason there is no chance for a combined candidacy nor a combining of party infrastructures. Legally it makes no sense unless those bodies and members supported the creation of a single 3rd party. If such creation were to happen there’d immediately be people splintering off, not happy with such combination.

  12. Carl Says:


    1. Core LP activists did not trust Barr, and thus sat on their hands or worse.
    2. Barr set up for a 30 million dollar campaign and got typical LP fundraising numbers.
    3. Barr did not go after the Paul vote.
    4. The Barr campaign attempted credibility through arrogance. This was off-putting to many.
    5. The Barr campaign focused on contested states instead of lopsided states.
    6. Obama is really good looking. His blue steel is close to perfection.

  13. citizen1 Says:

    I do not see the GP supporting candidates that do not support socialized medical and cap and trade to name a few. I do not see the LP supporting those that do.

  14. Richard Winger Says:

    I hope we break the habit of only using the presidential vote as an indicator of national opinion toward minor parties and independent candidates.

    In presidential election years, every voter in the 50 states gets two votes on national policy…one for president, and one for US House. But we, and the big media, are all in the habit of only paying attention to the presidential vote and completely ignoring the US House vote.

    We still don’t know the national “other” vote for US House, but signs are that it is much improved (percentagewise, not just total votewise) over 2006, even though only half the districts had an “other” candidate on the ballot for US House. Libertarians got over 1,050,000 votes for US House even with only 126 nominees. Greens got close to 700,000 for US House this year, easily a record for the Green Party. I don’t know the Constitution Party total yet, or the independent candidate US House totals yet, or the other minor parties, except that Working Families got 70,000 for US House just in Connecticut.

  15. Glaivester Says:

    I’d say it’s because there was a Democrat and a Republican that people basically liked, but that wouldn’t explain why 1988 third party voting was so low.

    Er, I’d say it’s because there was a Democrat and a Republican that people basically liked, except that lots of GOPers HATED McCain’s guts. I guess that fear of Obama ws enough to get a lot of them to bend over for McCain.

  16. Bill Wood Says:

    No I can’t see Ron Paul getting more than 500,000 votes in the last election judging by the vote totals he did receive in the two States he was listed on the ballot. Less than 10,000 per State average.

    No we won’t see the Third Partys combining to run a “Super” Candidate. Why would small government supporters back a large government candidate and vice versa or a worship how you wish person to a worship how we tell you to candidate or vice versa. Ain’t going to happen.

    There is no Anarchist Messiah out there who will step forward to lead the Libertarian Party to victory. Most Americans believe in some form of government. We’ve watched the LP die a little more each year in terms of members, money , but we were high on the list for being the crazy party, joked at laughed at. Then something began to change within the LP. The War in Iraq, Bill Redpath and other things caused membership to stop its free fall and it leveled out and then it started an upward trend.I think the LP would have died in May if the Convention had gone in the opposite way than the way it did. I can’t begin to count the number of Members who were going to leave the LP if the results were different. There were a few whose Candidates lost at the Convention and they took it upon themselves to try to destroy the LP, no matter what the truths are, what ever the facts were ,they ignored.

    Well, the good news they couldn’t kill the LP. Membership growth way up, donations way up, number of votes way up, the Presidential Candidate though not getting the number of votes we expected still received the second highest number of votes in Party history. The LP and its Candidates probably received the most media coverage ever and mostly favorable. You can read the numbers at Even ,Time showed the LP in a good light.

    After the last two Presidential elections I could see and feel the air knocked out of LP Members. This election is different. I’m hearing from people who want to help make the LP work. I’m seeing people pumped up for the LP. People wanting to start LP affilates, people wanting to attend meetings. It is Fantastic to hear from so many people who are upbeat and feeling positive about the LP. I’m reminded of a Marine saying” Lead, follow or get the Hell out of the way!” Long Live the LP!

  17. disinter Says:

    Thank God Treason fired Weigel’s retarded ass.

  18. chris Says:

    i think it was obama that did the third parties in. Just look at the reason magazine voter list:
    he was the candidate it was hip to vote for, and hew was also the candidate that scarred the hell out of many, so much so that they wanted to vote for the “lesser of two evils.”

    bob barr was not the libertarians choice from what i can tell, and none of the other candidates were known outside the typical third party voting bloc, aside from Nader, but really, who’d vote Nader when we have obama?
    maybe in 2012 when obama is no longer running for president, we might see an increase in the number of third party votes.

  19. DonaldRaymondLake Says:

    Any one even thinking of linking with Libs have two major hurdles.

    [a] gripe gripe all day long and never do any thing, especially when victory rears it’s ugly head….

    New National HQ, Napa County, California, [WHINE Country]

    [b] Promoting open borders in a post 9 - 1 - 1 environment, the political and cultural kiss of death!

  20. Clark Says:

    ...methinks the reason ‘third parties’ quarrel (fallacy of reification) about ‘economics’ so much is that NONE/VERY VERY FUCKING FEW OF YOU POLITICAL QUARRELERS UNDERSTAND THE ORIGIN, NATURE, ETC. OF THE MOST UBIQUITOUS “ECONOMIC’ ‘COMMODITY’: THE FEDERAL RESERVE TOKEN (‘dollar’ to the/you republicrat ‘economic’ retards)...virtually one half of every ‘economic transaction’..

    ...remember, raw, fucking ignorance tends to exacerbate quarrels..

    ..but have a good day!..

  21. luke weyland Says:

    Why so few minor party votes in November 4 elections?

    Tell me guys,
    How many US presidential candidates were there? Seven? eight?
    Watching CNN and FOX News,, reading numerous news sites one would have thought there were just two: Senator Barack HUSSEIN Obama ( and his two running mates Bill and Hillary Clinton), and Governor Sarah Palin (and her running mate Senator John McCain).

    Look at your electoral system too: Where do the votes go after someone chooses Barr, Nader or whoever? - no where .In Australia we have preferential voting - first you vote for the one you want, then you vote for the lesser evil. I vote Socialist , Green, Independents if any, Labor then put the Liberals last ( who are actually the Oz equivalent of US republicans)

    France has a run-off system kid of like the US senatorial race in Georgia. If no one gets 50% of the vote, the top two candidates face an electoral dual four weeks later.

    If I had been a US citizen residing in say Missouri, my heart would have told me to vote for Cynthia - But I would have ticked Obama’s box instead.

  22. blakmira Says:

    Vote count fraud is:
    A) Conspiracy theory
    B) Myth
    C) Non-existent
    D) Unfathomable
    E) Prevalent and extremely successful in doing its job at convincing third party voters that their votes don’t count.

    You don’t trust Democrats or Republicans, yet you trust Diebold and the electronic black box voting system?

  23. ~enemyartistkristofeR! Says:

    The Elections Are OVER, Get Over It and Move On…

    ... People, the Elections Are Over! America Spoke and We Elected Our Next President! Stop whining if you were a McCain guy. I personally voted for Ralph Nader, but apparently he didn’t win. We have serious issues in this country and throughout the world DUE to the way this country operates!

    First, we have to deal with the 69 or so days left in W.’s term.
    Let’s hope he doesn’t fuck things up more than he’s already done before he leaves office.

    What we need to focus on is A. we need to keep an eye on who President Elect Obama brings with him to the White House, get a general feel for the way things are going to play out.
    B. We need to focus our Energies and Voice back to the issues; the Main issue is the Anti-War movement
    It seems to have disappeared under the noise of the Primaries and the General Election!
    I mean we DO have the Iraq Veterans Against War - Thank Goodness for those Brave Patriots!
    but outside of that, movements that were more toward anti-war protesting seemed to just throw themselves to Obama’s election machine and moved away from protesting the Wars! Lets remember, Obama doesn’t want to fully end the wars and he also wants to beef up the Military Industrial Complex! But what we need to do is focus on DISMANTLING the Evil Military Industrial Complex, We Need to Get ALL our troops out of IRAQ as soon as possible, working with the Iraqi government to get this done. We need to in My Opinion NOT invade Afghanistan. Then we need to look to IRAN with an open mind and NOT go to war with them!
    We also need to discipline Israel and tell them to Leave Palestine and the Gaza border alone!
    And we need to NOT start another Cold War with Russia. This means NO MISSILES in Poland

    If we are going to Move towards CHANGE - Lets DO Some Real CHANGE! Lets END WAR!
    Also the END to these wars would save SO Much American Taxpayer Money that would be much better spent on cleaning up this financial mess and rebuilding the infrastructure of America!

    We also need to STOP giving out Billions of Dollars to Corporate Welfare recipients, the same people or kind of people who are AGAINST social programs, social welfare etc.

    It’s TIME for CHANGE! Its Time To CHANGE Our Attitudes, its Time to Stand together As a Nation and to Stand with Our President Elect and to Make these NEEDED CHANGES Happen, Happen SOON and Happen Correctly!
    WE THE PEOPLE need to be involved in this March towards Change and the March towards a Better America and eventually a Better World, Full of EQUALITY and without WARS - especially WAR for Profit!

    We also need to Solve our energy Crisis and Get OFF Oil whether foreign OR domestic!
    Lets think and prepare this country for SOLAR and WIND and other Alternative Energy Sources!

    Please visit my blog @

  24. Rob Says:

    All this talk of combining…do people who advocate this, even know what they are talking about?

    It’s great as a fiction in real life,you could have just combined behind Bob Barr.

    That was the point from the start. When its no longer a theory, but a real person, then some of you will balk. other candidates will run, some will support them…wa-la, its not combined again.

    So what, the whole point was Nader did better by himself, so did John Anderson, so did Perot.

    You cannot ask for, and you will never get, all non-major party voters to vote for the same person, but you can have an extremely successful 3rd party run….just make sure your fav. candidate is really, really successful.

    Anyway, Bob Barr, overall did fine…but I agree with the earlier poster, don’t go for contested states, go for lopsided ones. Don’t over promise. Run a 3rd party campaign, understand where the opportunities are.

    As for historical election, blah blah blah, thats what they say every 4 years, and ‘people really didn’t like x candidate’ again thats what they say every 4 years…I’m old enough to remember ‘if Reagan wins, i’m moving to Canada’

    yada yada…nothing particularly historic about this election, except in the black community where Obama was getting historic turnouts and percentages. Otherwise, really typical election.

    Basically the common sense argument against 3rd parties is still persuasive.

    Thats why I was so disappointed Bob Barr didn’t get that part, and started his campaign with ‘we’ll win’...start from the beginning, we won’t win. We will get some polling numbers for a while, and it will evaporate on election day.

    Tell everyone you meet, to look left and right, and realize that both people you just looked at….won’t vote Bob Barr on election day.

    Find a way to reach these people with the message that they shouldn’t putz out at the last minute…that supporting minor parties, even when they dont’ win, is a valuable important exercise.

  25. Rob Says:

    p.s. I disagree that taking congressional totals is an important measure of 3rd party success.

    congressional seats actually won, important.

    Otherwise, its not really an indicator of core support. I think ‘protest’ voting is largely a myth.

    We have to remember, just as people are not honest about why they voted for McCain (lessor of two evils, instead of I really support McCain)

    They are also not honest (even our own) of why they vote 3rd party (protest vote, instead of I really support this 3rd party).

    Honestly…people vote for the candidate they want.


    The world isn’t upside down, but most people are a bit cowardly, they lack intellectual skills, they lack the desire to argue, they want a quick easy answer that you’ll accept…but thats the phenomena that we keep taking seriously….we shouldn’t.

    Bob Barr’s core support is 500,000. No kidding.

  26. Rob Says:

    ah, I really need to proofread before I post.

    Anyway, protest voting doesn’t happen on the presidential level in any large part. Too many 3rd party choices in most states, and too few ppl willing to protest on that election.

    Congressional elections, lots of votes being tossed around for whatever reason. just tons of ppl don’t have any idea who their rep. is, who the incumbent is, who the main challenger is…what party they might be in, etc.

    Goodness knows why they cast a vote for one or the other.

  27. disinter Says:

    Libertarians, the Party’s Over

  28. Red Phillips Says:

    Reason fired Weigel?

    The reason the third parties didn’t do as well as some had hoped given the level of discontent (on the right at least), is because the public is still fixated on the two-party system, and because most people are basically centrists. They define themselves as liberal or “conservative” based on a very tight center, a center that keeps moving left all the time.

    I fear it is going to take a catastrophe (a huge economic melt-down for example) to move people off the center, and even then there is no guarantee that movement will be in a direction LP or CP voters will like.

  29. Clark Says:, i do hope that someday you might stop using the mostly worthless terms ‘left,’ ‘center,’ ‘right,’ etceterot, when engaging in ‘the competition of ideas about government’ (a.k.a. ‘politics’)

    ...sure, QUALITATIVELY, there are some differences about which some goddamned fools may quibble..

    ..i.e. as to ‘government schooling’ (which shouldn’t ‘exist’ in the first place) ‘the leftists’ will tend to advocate for ‘secular humanist’ brainwashing while ‘the rightists’ tend to advocate for some ‘jesus’ brainwashing.. to the fucking ‘drug war’ (which shouldn’t ‘exist’ in the first place) ‘the leftists’ will tend to advocate for stinking ‘prohibition’ with some mandatory counselling, etc. as ‘the punishment’ whilst ‘the rightists’ tend to advocate for stinking ‘prohibition’ with some mandatory jail time as ‘the punishment’..

    ...i could on for hours..

    ...but suffice it to say that while QUALITATIVELY there are—OF COURSE!—differences amonsgt these peckerheaded ‘leftists’ and ‘rightists,’ QUANTITATIVELY, BOTH THESE GROUPS OF PECKERHEADS, etc. assorted creeps, WILL HAND YOU VIRTUALLY THE $AME “TAX BILL”...

    ...the ‘left/right’ dichotomy is perfect for these stinking democrat/republican peckerheads…giving the illusion of some important differences/distinctions..’re too smart to use these fucking, miserable, phony republicrat concepts/frameworks..

    ..and have a good day!..

  30. Vortex of Freedom Says:

    The third parties at the national level should consolidate some resources and promote alternative parties in 2009. The emphasis shouldn’t be so much on party platform, but that there are alternatives to Republicans and Democrats. Have a centralized website that will bring readers to the party of their choosing.

  31. Lojiko Says:

    You can partly thank all the morons who wrote-in Ron Paul in spite of RP dropping out, telling people to vote for someone else, and their vote not being counted since RP did not register as a write-in candidate anywhere.

    The only places where RP votes were counted were Montana and Louisiana … not because RP wanted to be on the ballot, but because some very minor, minor party Ron Paul cultistas there decided to nominate him anyway.

  32. Catholic Trotskyist Says:

    Ron Paul’s write-in votes were also counted in New Hampshire, where he and Hillary Clinton each got about 1000 votes. Read the ipr.

  33. Yosemite1967 Says:

    Maybe people saw how much support there was for Ron Paul before the primaries and how few votes he got, in comparison, in the primaries and realized that the elections are more fixed in this country than most of us want to admit. Why does everyone keep looking past this 1000-pound gorilla sitting on the table in front of us (fixed elections)? Does the media have America THAT hypnotised?

    With how many times election fraud has been exposed where electronic counting systems are used, why do people still think that they can trust it? Settle for nothing less than multi-witness, hand-counted, paper ballots everywhere (just like we all used to have, and for good reason), and you’ll start seeing third-party candidates get elected all over the country! That’s how the votes were counted when Rick Jore (of the Constitution Party of Montana) was elected to the Montana legislature.

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