Don’t blame ‘spoilers’ for helping Trump–here’s how Democrats can earn their votes


Voters in Illinois have four minor party candidates on their ballots this year, as well as a write-in option. Photo courtesy of Konrad Strzalka.

Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was a surprise to many. The polls had her winning comfortably. Few people thought America would elect someone with Donald Trump’s views in this day and age. 

Once the initial shock wore off, the finger-pointing started.

Jill Stein and her supporters immediately became the boogeymen. The Green Party candidate got 1.07 percent of the vote nationwide, which seems insignificant, but she got a vote tally slightly larger than Trump’s margin of victory in the three states that decided the election – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

If Bernie Bros had just sucked it up and voted for Clinton over Stein, these three key Rust Belt states would have gone blue, and Democrats in 2020 would be campaigning for Madame President’s re-election.

Is it really that simple? Could our current situation–a  collapsed economy, never-ending pandemic, and highly-contested Supreme Court battle–all have been prevented if a couple thousand voters weren’t so stubborn?

I doubt it.

Firstly, it is incorrect to assume that Jill Stein voters’ second choice was Hillary Clinton. According to CNN exit polls, 65 percent of third party voters “would not vote” if Clinton and Trump were the only two options on the ballot. Similarly, polling conducted by The Economist and YouGov in October 2016 showed that a majority of Stein supporters were voting “for Stein,” rather than “against Clinton” or “against Trump.”

If their party was not an option, Green Party voters could have stayed home, voted for a different third party candidate, and maybe even voted for Trump.

But even if you were to assume that Clinton could have won if all Stein supporters voted for her, what about the Libertarian Party?

Gary Johnson, the candidate of this right-wing third party, got 3.28 percent of the popular vote nationwide (three times Stein’s total), and he got a higher vote total than Jill Stein in all 50 states!

Furthermore, Stein placed below fourth in some states, behind independent Evan McMullin or the Constitution Party’s nominee Darrell Castle – both of whom are conservatives.

If we are making the assumption that all Stein voters could have chosen Clinton, it is only fair to assume that all right-wing third party voters could have chosen Trump. Therefore, under this logic, Trump had more third party voters pulling away support from him, giving Clinton an advantage that still wasn’t enough for her to win.

Clearly, Jill Stein voters can’t be blamed for Trump’s victory in 2016. Hillary Clinton’s campaign didn’t appeal to them, just as it didn’t appeal to the 95 million eligible voters who stayed home that year.

So with the 2020 election days away, what does the Biden camp really need to do to earn the votes Democrats didn’t get four years ago?

The best way to guarantee victory is by running on a bold platform that promises people tangible solutions for the current economic and health crises, as well as other worsening crises such as climate change.

Mount Prospect Village Hall is one of several early voting sites in suburban Cook County (October 26, 2020). Photo by of Konrad Strzalka.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they will pursue this strategy. 

Just a few weeks ago, at the vice presidential debate, Mike Pence accused the Biden campaign of supporting a ban on fracking, which would be popular with a plurality of voters. But Kamala Harris quickly jumped to Biden’s defense, claiming he would not ban fracking. This made young people, progressives, and anybody who cares about the environment cringe.

Throughout his campaign, Biden has also distanced himself from primary runner-up Bernie Sanders and his Medicare-4-All proposal, proudly stating “I beat the socialist” at various events.

For Genesis Davila, a Harper student and activist, this sort of rhetoric from Biden hasn’t won her vote.

“In the middle of a pandemic, we need someone who can guarantee healthcare for every single person living in America,” Davila argued. “Biden does not have a concrete plan to deal with Puerto Rico and their decolonization. He does not have a plan to legalize cannabis and he does not believe in defunding the police.”

The good news for Democrats is that despite many progressives having their doubts again, Biden’s lead in the national and state polls is much stronger than Clinton’s in 2016.

However, this is simply due to Donald Trump’s absolute failure of handling the pandemic and economic collapse. Democrats can’t always count on running against a failed president.

If the Democratic Party wants to retain power for the long-term, and prevent repeats of 2016 in elections to come, they need to make stronger appeals to the progressive youth and left-wing independents.