Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Measuring the Buchanan effect. Boston Globe columnist (and Nader voter) Alex Beam writes today that Pat Buchanan may have hurt George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election at least as much as Ralph Nader hurt Al Gore.

Writes Beam: "Big Media, with its hopelessly liberal tilt, doesn't yammer on about Patrick Buchanan's candidacy, which siphoned off 17,000 votes in the disputed 2000 Florida election. Why not? Because in the view of liberal editorialists, Buchanan siphoned off votes from the right candidate, i.e. George Bush. Dandy for him!"

It's an argument I've heard before. In its most fully developed form, the theory goes so far as to assert that Buchanan actually cost Bush more electoral votes than Nader did Gore, even though, nationally, Nader beat Buchanan by a margin of about 2.78 million to 450,000.

Well, based on Media Log's quickie analysis, it's just not true. As David Rosenbaum reports in today's New York Times, Nader voters favored Gore over Bush by a wide margin. Thus, it can confidently be said that Nader cost Gore two states, Florida and New Hampshire. And in states where Buchanan would appear to have been a factor, that's only because Nader was on the ballot as well.

Let's look at Florida, which, as we all know, Bush won by just 537 votes. Buchanan received 17,356 votes. Even if you adjust for the infamous butterfly ballots, it's reasonable to assume that most of those votes would have gone to Bush. So Buchanan helped Gore, right? Well, yes. But Nader got 96,837 votes. Remove Nader and Buchanan from the ballot, and Gore would have won Florida handily. Same with New Hampshire. Bush won by 7282 votes, far less than the 22,156 that Nader received, thus costing Gore the state's three electoral votes. Factor in Buchanan's 2603, and nothing changes.

But what about states that Gore won by fewer votes than Buchanan received? There were three: Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico. But the same logic holds. In Wisconsin, Gore beat Bush by 5396 votes, fewer than the 11,379 that Buchanan received. But Nader won 93,553 votes. Again, remove both Nader and Buchanan, and Gore would have won by an even greater margin. In New Mexico, which Gore won by just 366 votes, Nader beat Buchanan by 21,251 to 1392. In Iowa, which Gore won by 4130 votes, Nader beat Buchanan by 29,352 to 5731.

The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn is that Nader absolutely croaked Gore, whereas Buchanan had only a mild negative effect on Bush.

A few caveats: I'm oversimplifying. I did this quickly, and relied on Election Night numbers from CNN.com. The final tally was slightly different, although it should not affect my findings. Also, I'm not counting other third-party candidates. In particular, Libertarian Party nominee Harry Browne did better than Buchanan in some states, including New Hampshire. But even if you assign all of Browne's votes to Bush - no sure thing, given such Libertarian stands as an end to drug prohibition - Gore still would have carried New Hampshire had Nader not run. (That said, it's possible that Browne and Buchanan together carried Gore to victory in Oregon.)

In Salon, Eric Boehlert reports that progressives are deserting Nader in droves. They should. The Buchanan theorists are just plain wrong. Nader really did cost Gore the presidency in 2000, and he could do so again.

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