Will voters actually decide the election this year? Unless someone has a better idea.

Michael Bloomberg raised an interesting question while announcing his decision not to mount a third-party run for the presidency yesterday.  He stated, “In a three-way race, it’s unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress.”

Viability of Third Party Candidates

The obvious question is: How plausible is it that no candidate receives the constitutionally mandated 270 electoral votes needed for victory, which would then require the U.S. House of Representatives to elect the president?  No third-party candidate in U.S. history has ever come close to winning the presidency. Recent examples like Ross Perot (1992 and 1996) and Ralph Nader (2000) have swung the balance of state results toward one party’s nominee or the other, but none were a serious threat to win or secured enough electoral votes to spur House intervention.

Earlier elections in the last century were a little different.  In 1968, George Wallace won five states and 48 Electoral College votes.  He focused his efforts on the South, where his pro-segregation platform had resonance, with the intention of being a kingmaker for Richard Nixon over Hubert Humphrey.  In the end, the election wasn’t close and Nixon won 301 electoral votes, well above the 270-vote threshold. Teddy Roosevelt (1912) was the most successful third-party candidate of the twentieth century after serving as president from 1901 to 1909.  He surpassed then-Republican President William Howard Taft in a challenge for the presidency, but he received fewer than 20 percent of the Electoral College vote. This seems to suggest that the scenario above is not likely.

Lessons from 2000

But 2016 could be different.  Does anyone remember 2000? We had a tightly contested election between George W. Bush and Al Gore that was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court when it ended recount efforts, awarding Florida to Bush and thereby delivering the necessary Electoral College votes for victory: Bush’s 271 vs. Gore’s 266. Five Electoral College votes separated the two candidates.  Bush won with one EC vote to spare.

Historical election data suggests that the Democratic nominee can expect to win 247 Electoral College votes, and the Republican nominee can expect 206, which means the election will be decided by the seven states that account for the 85 remaining EC votes. Well, what if a third-party candidate entered the race, pulled votes from both candidates and was able to be competitive in one or two of the battleground states. This may sound farfetched, but consider Mitt Romney. He won 206 Electoral College votes in 2012 and lost three of the battleground states by less than 5 percent of the vote (OH, VA and FL). A focused campaign with the simple goal of denying the party nominees 270 votes is plausible in my mind.

Under normal circumstances I would not suggest that this is even possible, but there is no political gravity this year, so why not?  My only hope is that this does not happen.  I fear that the circumstances are different in 2016 than they were in 2000.  While Democrats were angry and disappointed by the actions of the Supreme Court, they accepted the decision.  I think voters of every stripe are angry this year; angry with the establishment, angry with government gridlock and just plain fed up.  Political revolution is in the air this year, and it would not take much to set it off.

 

 

Will voters actually decide the election this year? Unless someone has a better idea.

Michael Bloomberg raised an interesting question while announcing his decision not to mount a third-party run for the presidency yesterday.  He stated, “In a three-way race, it’s unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress.”
Viability of Third Party Candidates
The obvious question is: How plausible is it that no candidate receives the constitutionally mandated 270 electoral votes needed for victory, which would then require the U.S. House of Representatives to elect the president?  No third-party candidate in U.S. history has ever come close to winning the presidency. Recent examples like Ross Perot (1992 and 1996) and Ralph …

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