Numerous articles have circulated accusing the Green Party and Jill Stein for costing Clinton the election. These have not just been fringe ramblings of disgruntled relatives and friends on Facebook, but published stories in respected media outlets. This has spawned many memes and accusations labeling Stein as everything from the “Ralph Nader of 2016” to a puppet for Putin who doomed us to President Trump and the consequences of that presidency. The problem is these accusations are false and even a rudimentary examination of available data reveals that.
This Accusation Is Based on a Faulty Assumption
First, this entire argument is founded on the assumption Green Party votes are owed to the candidate from another party. We are being blamed for failing to vote for the candidate from another political party. It is not the Green Party’s responsibility to elect the candidate from another party, it is our responsibility to campaign for our candidates. It is our fault Stein did not win. It is not our fault Clinton did not win. The Democratic party does not have ownership of my vote and I did not wrongfully give that vote to someone else.
If the Democratic Party (or the Green Party, or any party for that matter) wants more votes, they need to organize and engage with voters and convince them that their party has the voter’s interests at heart. They need to communicate how the party’s proposals for the future and past track record deserve to be voted for.
Some argue that the Green Party voters should have recognized the dire stakes in this election, and registered and voted as Democrats, despite their reservations about Clinton and the Democratic Party, because the Democrats align with them on so many issues and Trump posed such a threat to those values.
However, Democrats were not convincing enough in their outreach to Green Party voters to win us over. They were equally unable to convince the millions of Americans who did not vote or other Independents who were up for grabs. This is all not the fault of the Green Party as it is not the Green Party’s job to convince people to vote for another party’s candidate or to be more amenable to arguments to defect from their party.
Publicly Available Data Contradicts This Accusation
Second, all of these accusations are contradicted by even a basic assessment of publicly available data. The total number of Green votes in swing states Clinton lost to Trump were only larger than Trump’s margin of victory in Wisconsin and Michigan. Even if Greens had supported Clinton and Clinton had won in these states, Clinton still would have lost the electoral college 258 to 280. Earlier assessments that votes for Stein were larger than Trump’s margin of victory in Pennsylvania were incorrect. That means that even if every Green voter, in every state where Green Party members could vote for Stein, had suddenly flipped their registration and voted for Clinton, Clinton still would have lost to Trump.
Additionally, many Green Party voters indicated that they would have stayed home, voted for Johnson, or even voted for Trump if Stein was not on the ballot. Therefore, it cannot be safely assumed that Green voters would have unanimously flocked to Clinton if Stein had never ran. Additionally, one cannot clearly argue that the mere existence of an alternative progressive party significantly decreases the Democrats chance for winning as many Green Voters would never vote for Democratic candidates even if the Green Party didn’t exist.
Even if one insists on assuming that all Green voters would go to Democrats and all Libertarian voters would vote Republican if the other parties had stayed out the race completely, Trump’s margin of victory in the relevant states would have actually increased.
Stein’s Criticism of Clinton Likely Had No Impact on Support for Clinton
Third, sometimes the argument is made that Stein’s criticism of Clinton had a chilling effect on Democratic voters, either convincing them to be less vocal in their support for Clinton, to refuse to vote, or even to switch parties. I could not find data pertinent to the theory that Stein’s message swayed Democratic voters, but I find it highly unlikely this had any major impact on the election give what information is available to us.
The Green Party earned less than 1% of the national votes, and it does not appear the Green Party has any significant influence over the American voters (and that is our fault). How could we be simultaneously influential enough with American voters to cost Clinton the election, but not influential enough to even be on the ballot in 50 states?
Additionally, Stein received a minute fraction of media exposure this entire election cycle. The media was encouraged to by HRC’s campaign and had financial interests in covering Trump’s controversial statements and it gave him, and to a lesser extent Clinton, the lion’s share of all coverage. This means the message of Stein and the Green Party received little exposure, including any parts of our message that were critical of Clinton and the Democrats. The high point of coverage related to Stein happened when she achieved 3.9% of television mentions in comparison to other presidential candidates. For most of the election she received far less coverage than that. This spike was also during the recount effort Stein led, after the election had taken place. So even if Stein’s message was convincing enough to Democrats to get them to not vote for Clinton, one wonders how they even heard this message?
Democrats who insist on this argument then should ask why this message was convincing to enough Democrats to impact the election given such a small amount of exposure. What problems with Clinton did Stein highlight were so compelling that it soured support for Clinton, and do they persist in the Democratic Party and its candidates? Are they alleging Stein lied about Clinton’s record and many Democrats were gullible enough to fall for a message they barely heard mentioned?
This argument that Stein’s message lowered Democratic voter turnout is a speculative argument to make and a speculative argument to counter so perhaps future data might prove this claim correct, but I think this is highly improbable due to the many other factors in this election and what has already been considered.
Democrats Need to Stop Blaming External Factors and Accept Responsibility
The Green Party did not win, so we did not stop the Proto-facism of Trump or the Neo-liberalism of Clinton, and that is on us, but the Green Party did not cost the Democrats this election.These journalistic pieces leveling accusations at Stein are a vehicle for Democrats to avoid taking responsibility for their loss, not journalism a meant to inform the public or further important political conversation. Any jabs or memes at the Green Party carrying the same accusation are equally without truth and simply an attempt to escape responsibility. As a member of the Green Party I refuse to be the fall-guy for the problems in the Democratic party, a party that I have absolutely nothing to do with.
For anyone serious about the Democratic Party’s future prospects, blaming the Green Party for Clinton’s loss is counter-productive. Democrats need to stop flailing around seeking to blame external factors for their failing party and engage in some serious introspection and self-criticism (as Green Party members need to do in regards to our own inability to win). The Green Party did not cost the Democrats this election this year, or the 70 Congressional seats, 910 State legislative seats and 11 Governors they have lost since Obama took office. The Democratic Party cannot keep dodging responsibility for the consequences of their actions and in-actions with voters and turn around their losing streak. It is one or the other.