Posted on November 9, 2016
In the aftermath of an unexpected victory for Donald Trump on election night, questions have been asked about how Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party could have won what appeared to be an easy race.
Trump was massively unpopular with voters. According to CNN’s Exit Poll, 60% of voters had an unfavourable view of Donald Trump. Unfortunately for Clinton, her negatives weren’t too far behind with an unfavourable view among voters of 54%.
During the primaries, Hillary Clinton faced stiff competition against Independent-turned-Democrat, Bernie Sanders. Sanders was able to win 23 states in the democratic primary and more than 13 million votes.
However, the hard-fought primary campaign left deep divides within the Democratic party. After Wikileaks released a batch of Democratic National Committee e-mails appearing to show that the DNC leadership was supportive of Clinton, many Sanders supporters accused the DNC and Clinton of rigging the election against their candidate.
Ultimately, those accusations turned out to be false — while the e-mails did show a bias among several DNC employees towards the Clinton campaign, no concrete steps to limit Sanders’ success were ever undertaken. That fact did not stop many Sanders supporters from breaking from the Democratic Party and vowing to support a far-left, third party option. For the most part, these individuals backed Jill Stein, the Green Party’s two-time presidential nominee.
Stein also ran in 2012 against President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. In that race she won 469,628 votes. This election season (with some votes still being counted at the time of writing), the Green Party has increased its vote total to 1,209,758 — more than double what it received last cycle. Undoubtedly this increase was brought on in part by a significant number of Sanders supporters who publicly backed Stein.
American voters may hear echoes of the 2000 presidential election in all this, when Ralph Nader, while also running for the Green Party, was accused of pulling left-wing votes away from the more moderate Democrat, Al Gore. Ultimately, Nader’s opponents claim these votes cost Gore Florida and, as a result, the election.
But is this the case for Clinton and Stein?
In order to have won the election, Clinton would have needed to win a combination of three of the following states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida.
Michigan: Trump — 2,279,210; Clinton — 2,267,373; Difference — 11,837; Stein — 50,686
Wisconsin: Trump — 1,409,467; Clinton — 1,382,210; Difference — 27,257; Stein — 30,980
Pennsylvania: Trump — 2,912,941; Clinton — 2,844,705; Difference — 68,236; Stein — 48,912
Florida: Trump — 4,605,515; Clinton — 4,485,745; Difference — 119,770; Stein — 64,019
In only two of those states — Michigan and Wisconsin, which also happen to be the smallest of the states — is the Green Party vote large enough to make up the gap between Clinton and Trump. Even if she had won those two states, Clinton would have lost the election to Trump 280 electoral votes to her 258. Trump’s support in Pennsylvania and Florida was so great that even a unified centre-left and left-wing voter coalition would not have displaced him.
It is always difficult to assume how voters, if given different candidates, in what would be a different race, would have voted. Were Bernie Sanders the nominee, it is possible he could have lost just as definitively as Clinton had — or won in a landslide. Likewise, we cannot assume the Green Party would not have been a factor in a race between Bernie Sanders and Trump. However, given the fact that Jill Stein offered the top spot of the Green Party ticket to Sanders after her nomination, it is reasonable to assume that a Sanders-led Democratic presidential ticket would have won a significant number of Green votes. At the end of the day, though, all we have are the votes as they stand now, and the numbers clearly show that Jill Stein and the Green Party are not responsible for Clinton’s loss to Trump via vote splitting — certainly not in the states that decided the election. There are many arguments to be made about why Clinton lost, but vote splitting among left-wing candidates does not appear to be a meaningful one.