Consider the Spoiler Effect (And the Electoral College)

The "Spoiler" Effect

Consider the “spoiler effect”…. I was recently accused of parroting “old retreaded DNC theories,” about third-party candidates as spoilers. In the same online conversation, one commenter said Hillary’s victory was “overthrown by Electoral College power.” My response grew too long to post on Facebook and decided it was worthy of a blog post.

Ahh, where to begin….

Third-Party, Independent Spoilers Are a Real Thing

That third-parties have failed time and again and the wins their voters handed to Bush and Trump are not “old DNC theories.” Rather, they are facts borne out by data. Just because hard-core independents and progressives who flatly refuse to vote Democrat don’t like being forced to carry that mantle doesn’t make it any less true. If Nader voters in 2000 had swallowed their pride and voted for Gore, we’d likely live in a very different country today. And if those same voters had lined up for Hillary instead of Stein, we wouldn’t be enduring the lunacy, stupidity, and mean-spiritedness of Trump today. Despite complaints and efforts to deflect onto “the system,” Green voters absolutely receive at least some of the blame.

Again, these points are not the sole domain of the DNC, though they certainly would agree with me. Pundits, political scientists, and the like have said pointed to results time and again; the data bares it out. Third-party candidates are spoilers. Libertarian-conservative candidates draw votes from Republicans. Greens, Communists, Democratic Socialists, etc. draw votes from Democrats.

Third Parties Are Hard Work

The Green Party has done little, if any, of the REAL work necessary to build a viable third-party. Every four years they hold up their quixotic candidate as a real alternative. But what work are they doing during the intervening years to build a base? None.

Are these people out in their communities knocking on doors, talking to voters, to young people? There’s no evidence of it. Are they out there doing the work to build a viable alternative? Nope. If the Green Party were genuinely serious about being a viable third-party, they’d be building one. Instead, they rely on Presidential Election years to garner some attention, some money, and some press coverage.

This, by the way, is the very work begin done by the Working Families Party. They’ve had some real successes. They’re putting money and time and effort into training and organizing. I’ve never seen a single shred of evidence the Green Party is doing anything similar.

Like these spoiler voters, the Green Party decries the two-party system as rigged. They attempt to rile-up voters tired of either party, then scream, complain, and cry foul when they lose. Until they do the work required, I not only won’t support their candidates, but I won’t validate their whining with a response beyond what I’ve said here.

Understand The Electoral College

Before digging in here, let me say that I generally support maintaining the Electoral College. A position I know is widely unpopular among progressives, among which I count myself as one.

As for the Electoral College, I wonder how much reading, research nay-sayers have done to understand the origins of the Electoral College, why it was set up, or how it functions (both now and originally)? Maybe some folks have, which is definitely a good thing. But, I’m guessing most, if not all, have not. So, let me educate you.

On two other occasions, I’ve written about the Electoral College. You can check them out here and here.

The Electoral College was originally established as a safeguard against an uninformed, uneducated, and potentially deceived electorate. Electors were originally intended to be elected somewhat independent from the “popular” vote and were meant to protect the republic from someone exactly like Trump. Someone not to be trusted, someone inclined toward monarchy (during the time of the Founders, Fascism wasn’t a thing). While votes of Electors were intended to be apportioned based on the popular vote, they had the authority to act independently in extraordinary circumstances; i.e. Trump. Again, the vote of the Electors wasn’t bound hard and fast to the results of the popular vote.

However, at the behest of direct democracy folks and those who were skeptical of the Electoral College’s power, the laws regarding the selection and authority of Electors were changed. So, whoever wins a majority of the popular vote in the state receives ALL the Electoral College votes of that state. In fact, it was direct-democracy types who “broke” the Electoral College. If left to operate as it was originally intended, there’s no reason to believe Hillary (or Gore) wouldn’t have been elected. The Electoral College is not some grand-dark conspiratorial institution. Or at least no more so than Congress.

Let’s Employ Some Critical Thinking

It should also be noted, only five times has the outcome differed from the popular vote. And in at least two of those instances, there was a “strong” third-party candidate that served as an effective spoiler. I’m not aware of any research or scientific evidence that draws a correlation between the two. However, it would seem to me there is at least some empirical evidence to suggest the different outcomes between the Electoral College results and the popular vote results in at least two of the five instances could, at least partially, be a result of the third-party spoiler.

Ultimately, if some insist on conspiracies to justify an idealized and unrealistic approach to decision-making in the voting booth, that’s certainly their prerogative. But I would nonetheless encourage them to at least try to look at the existing system with unbiased eyes. I certainly won’t claim the system as it stands now is ideal, or even good, but it is what we have. I’m not sure abolishing or effectively neutering the Electoral College is the way to fix it. But, until this system is fundamentally changed, I will continue to make decisions based on the reality of the existing system, not the romanticized hope for the ideal.

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