There is this idea floating out there that a dark-horse third option will rise suddenly in an already crazy election season, and that candidate will force a vote in the House for the next president by denying Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the 270 electoral votes needed to win. This is unbelievably ludicrous, and those advocating it should know better.
The grand total haul of all third-party options in the Electoral College, from 1788 through 2012, totals less than 400 electoral votes. Out of 57 elections, that’s an average of fewer than ten. Sure, a third-party choice could conceivably win a few states in this season, but the most successful third-party options, all borne from tumultuous cycles far more unpredictable than this one, started months, if not years, earlier. Nobody is building a campaign from scratch in less than six months.
But let’s say that campaign does materialize. A candidate is selected. Ground game, data, ads, all that jazz. There’s a fundamental flaw in the assumption of those who are willing to put aside more than 200 years of electoral history and recent demographic voting patterns. It reveals this entire thing as silly without having to dig up a thousand charts and figures.
Face It: Your #NeverTrump Faction Is Really Tiny
These election strategists assume they are gauging the electorate correctly. They assume that the general dissatisfaction with the field as-is translates into the hundreds of thousands to millions of votes needed to win those magical “blocking electoral votes.” As states’ EVs are awarded to the winner of that state’s popular vote, these brains are insisting there is a critical mass of voters neither tethered to the Republican Party with Trump nor the Democratic Party with Clinton in enough states to block. There isn’t.
More than 80 percent of Republicans and Democrats are going to go with their current choices, even if someone somewhat appealing pops in. If I weren’t being so conservative, I’d say it’s closer to 90 percent. John Anderson dropped out of the Republican primary and ran as a general liberal in 1980. He polled well, at first. But eventually, voter behavior took over, Ronald Reagan successfully sold himself not as a crazy kook but a legitimate candidate, and in the end Anderson won no states outright. His strongest performances swung states to Reagan by eating away at Jimmy Carter’s liberal voter bloc in Massachusetts, New York, etc.
Third parties play spoiler every time. The last with a candidate who wanted to play kingmaker was George Wallace in 1968.
What voter is really going to cast his ballot for someone he knows cannot be president, just to block another person from winning? They have to believe the option they are selecting has a chance, or they will naturally drift back to option A or B. Sure, people who like to think up hypotheticals all day and fantasize about their single vote deciding a race may be persuaded here. But this isn’t how normal people think. People in the end vote for or against a person, not “Screw it all, I’ll vote Z.” If they are that dissatisfied, they aren’t showing up.
The Experts Still Think They’ve Got Game
What of the consequences of rejecting the will of the voters? You shift a party’s personal identity crisis to the nation’s by having a few dozen privileged people swinging their vote to whichever team gives them the better deal. To solve the impossible crisis of Trump, you’re willing to send the entire country into convulsions.
It won’t happen, of course, because there is no savior coming for these fantasists. Voters don’t operate like plot points, are not keen to your sixth-dimensional chess, and will vote overwhelmingly for a candidate they want to see win the White House.
But hey, what do I know. I’m no consultant, history professor, or expert. Better defer to the professionals. I mean, it’s not like they were horrendously unsuccessful in getting their preferred candidate(s) elected and are desperately willing to ignore that rejection to fuel a scheme that will fail just as badly, right?