Thursday, November 8, 2012

Election Results and Analysis

Forgive me. This is going to be a long post full of lots of data, charts, and graphs. But I want to just get it all out there...

First, an updated Popular Vote Tracker:
as of 3:45PM on November 8, 2012 (out of 120,434,200 total votes cast):
Johnson (Libertarian): 1,167,148 votes = 0.97%
Stein (Green): 409,594 votes = 0.34%
Goode (Constitution): 115,294 votes = 0.1%
Anderson (Justice): 36,589 votes = 0.03%

My data here and at "Liveblogging the Election" is/was from the New York Times. I have collated the results from each state by hand in a spreadsheet and then added them all up.

Now, I must address the five questions I posed a few weeks ago in my post, "Five Things to Watch for on Election Day." Here are the questions (rephrased in the past tense) with their accompanying answers:

1) Was 2012 the best Libertarian Party performance ever? Yes and No.

2) Was 2012 the best Constitution Party performance ever? No.

3) Was 2012 the best Green Party performance since Nader [2000]. Yes. 

4) Were any third party candidates "spoilers" in 2012? No.

5) Did the two-party paradigm crumble and begin a slow death in 2012? Nope.

And at "Liveblogging the Election" Tuesday night I added a sixth question:

6) Is the new Justice Party worth paying attention to in 2012? The answer is, frankly, no.

So, as you can see, my historically-informed questions (with their implicit accompanying predictions) were not as "spot-on" as Nate Silver's statistical analyses proved to be. My blog hasn't received the same attention (of course) as Mr. Silver's has, but I do think there are some useful data/analysis here to mull over...

So let's now go through each of the five questions and their answers one-by-one.

1) Best Libertarian Party Performance Ever?

Gary Johnson, the 2012 Libertarian candidate for president, received well over one million votes. This made him the first presidential candidate in the Libertarian Party's forty-year history to ever win more than one million votes. The previous best by a Libertarian candidate was in 1980 when Ed Clark won approximately 920,000 votes in the presidential race. So, best performance ever? Yes.

But, when Ed Clark ran for president, only 86 million American voted. This year (2012), we know that at least 120 million Americans voted. So even though Johnson may have won 200,000 to 300,000 more votes than Clark did thirty-two years ago, if a third party is to survive (much less grow), its numbers must inflate at the same pace as total voter turnout increases. As a percentage of the popular vote, Ed Clark in 1980 won 1.06% of the vote. But Johnson, based on my latest estimates, won only 0.97%. I hope that when all votes are counted Johnson can cross the one percent threshold, but it is extremely doubtful that he will catch up to Clark's 1.06%. So, best performance ever? Almost, but not quite.

Third Party Presidential Election Results (Select Parties), 1972-2012
(Source: I made this!)

As can be seen in the graph above, Gary Johnson's performance in 2012 was pretty amazing nevertheless. He took a party, the Libertarian Party, that had just one amazing year in 1980 but since had achieved only one half of one percent of the popular vote (or less) for the next seven election cycles (three decades, almost) and he brought the party's share of the popular vote back up to 1 percent. People are talking about libertarianism now. The rise of the Tea Party has helped, as has the popularity of Ron Paul. All of this helped Gary Johnson pull off such a strong win. Of course, Libertarians could have done better. I am sure that if Paul had sought the party's nomination (as he did in 1988 — he won the nomination that year, but did poorly in the general election as can be seen above) that the Libertarian Party could have won something more like Nader's 2.7% in 2000. So, perhaps that will happen in 2016. Or perhaps Gary Johnson — because he was an excellent candidate and appealed to so many young people — will run again in 2016 and break Ed Clark's 1.06% record.

Percentage of Voters Selecting Libertarian Party Candidate Gary Johnson, on a scale from 0% to 3%
U.S. Presidential Election, 2012 (Source: I made this!)

The above map might be a bit confusing. But it tells the viewer two different things. The yellow shading shows the intensity of voter support for Gary Johnson in that state. (Lighter colors indicate Johnson received closer to 0% of that state's vote; darker colors indicate he received closer to 3% [or even higher] of that state's vote.) Johnson's best state in 2012 was New Mexico, his home state, where he won 3.5% of the vote. It is harder to speak of his "worst" states, since in every state where he appeared on the ballot he received at least 0.5% of that state's vote. Being that Libertarian candidates for President have never really won more than 0.5% of the national vote for three decades, it is astounding that Johnson exceeded that mark in every single state in which he competed. Of course, the GOP used their armament of cash to sue Johnson off the ballot in Michigan, and Oklahoma prohibits any third party from participating in the presidential election. So those were his worst states. 

The second thing that the map tells us is how Gary Johnson's results compare to those of his predecessor, Bob Barr, from the 2008 presidential election. Basically what we see is that in every state  where Johnson competed he performed much better than Barr did in 2008. Only in Michigan, where Johnson was kept off the ballot, did the Libertarian Party fare worse in 2012 than in 2008. The Libertarian Party's state of greatest improvement was New Mexico, where Johnson improved upon Barr by 3.25 percentage points. (But of course that's because New Mexico is Gov. Johnson's home state.) The party's greatest growth however was definitely in the Plains states and Rocky Mountain states.

2) Best Constitution Party Performance Ever?

Virgil Goode, the Constitution Party candidate for president, won over 115,000 votes on Tuesday night, securing 0.1% of the national popular vote. But this was worse than that of his predecessor, Chuck Baldwin, who in 2008 won nearly 200,000 votes and secured 0.15% of the popular vote. So, best Constitution Party performance ever? No.

Third Party Presidential Election Results (Select Parties), 1972-2012
(Source: I made this!)

Goode's loss on Tuesday came as a bit of shock to me. I had predicted that he would take the Constitution Party to its best-ever showing, but as can be seen from the above graph, 2012 turned out to be not only worse for the Constitution Party, but it was actually one of the party's worst performances in a presidential election ever in its twenty-year history. Goode's performance was certainly the party's worst since 2000 when Howard Phillips won only 0.09% of the vote. With most votes counted, it looks like Goode has done just a bit better than Phillips did twelve years ago. The party's best performance was in 1996 when perennial candidate Phillips won nearly 1/5 of one percent of the popular vote. Overall, Goode's lackluster performance Tuesday night might lead the Constitution Party to do some soul searching. After twenty years and six election cycles running presidential candidates, they might ask themselves: what can we do in 2016 to try to at least break the 0.2% barrier and compete evenly with the Greens and Libertarians?

Part of Goode's problem was ballot access:

Percentage of Voters Selecting Constitution Party Candidate Virgil Goode, on a scale from 0% to 3%
U.S. Presidential Election, 2012 (Source: I made this!)

Unlike Gary Johnson's map above, we can see in this map that Goode's shades are lighter in every single state as compared to the Libertarians. I had predicted that Goode's best state would be Virginia, since it was his home state. He did well there (although not as well as Johnson). But in fact Goode's best states were South Dakota (0.65% of the vote) and Wyoming (0.59%). The numbers within each states show how much better or worse Goode performed as compared to his predecessor, Chuck Baldwin, in 2008. As already mentioned, Baldwin did better all around, and this is apparent in the map above. Despite Constitution Party gains in Virginia, South Dakota, and Wyoming, on a whole the party fared worse in almost every state in 2012 than they did in 2008. This is partly because the party lost ballot access in so many states. (See Alaska, Oregon, Nebraska, and Arkansas on the map above, for example.) Constitution Party support was highest in the upper Plains and Rocky Mountain states, but we've already seen that that ground is also dominated by Libertarians (and Republicans, for that matter). If the Constitution Party is going to grow (or even stay in the game in the 2010s) they probably need to focus on the South. But for whatever reason, Goode was not able to win the South as well as Baldwin did four years ago.

3) Best Green Party Performance since Nader [2000]?

Jill Stein won over 400,000 votes on Tuesday night, and secured 0.34% of the national popular vote. She easily outperformed her predecessor, Cynthia McKinney, who won only 161,000 votes (0.12%) in 2008. She nearly tripled the Green Party's share of the popular vote this time around. She also easily outperformed David Cobb's 120,000 votes (only 0.1%) from 2004. In 2000, Ralph Nader won nearly 3 million votes and secured 2.7% of the national popular vote. So, Stein came nowhere near that level of support, but at the same time she easily brought the Green Party back from the brink of irrelevancy from the 2000s. So, best Green Party performance since Nader? Yes. I was right!

Third Party Presidential Election Results (Select Parties), 1972-2012
(Source: I made this!)

Stein's success on Tuesday night is readily apparent in the graph above. In 2004 and in 2008 the Green Party had performed worse than both the Libertarians and the Constitutionalists. In nearly tripling the party's share of the popular vote, the Green Party's growth from 2008 to 2012 is actually more substantial than that of the Libertarians'. But in so many ways, both parties—Greens and Libertarians—have a lot to celebrate in 2012. Of course, Ralph Nader is lurking behind this data. He was responsible for the Green Party's successes in 1996 and 2000 (as seen above). Then, when the party refused to nominate him in 2004, he ran as an independent candidate. He ran again as an independent in 2008. I have suggested that Nader's presence in those races probably explains partly why the Greens did so poorly in the 2000s. 2012 was the first election cycle in two decades in which Ralph Nader was not running for president. This might help explain why Jill Stein was able to secure hundreds of thousands of more votes than her predecessors did.

Percentage of Voters Selecting Green Party Candidate Jill Stein, on a scale from 0% to 3%
U.S. Presidential Election, 2012 (Source: I made this!)

As can be seen in the map above, the Green Party made substantial gains in most states in 2012. First, the shading indicates the level of support for Jill Stein within each state, from light green to dark green. Stein's best states were Maine and Oregon, the only states in which she won over 1% of the vote. (Maine=1.28%; Oregon=1.07%). She did generally well on the West Coast (including Alaska) and in the Northeast, but the Green Party continues to struggle to achieve ballot access in much of New England where she might have done well, as she did in Maine. The numbers within each state indicate her success as compared to her predecessor, Cynthia McKinney. We can see that in all but one state (Louisiana), wherever Jill Stein was on the ballot in 2012 she helped increase the Green Party's share of that state's vote. But she was unable to achieve ballot access in Nevada, Nebraska, and elsewhere, meaning the Green Party lost some votes. Overall the 2012 data demonstrates that the Green Party does have a future, although its post-Ralph Nader future is still (from this historian's perspective) a bit uncertain. 

4) Spoiler States?

I had predicted that there would be at least some states where a third party candidate's share of the vote would exceed the difference between the two major candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. This is the situation that occurred in 2000 in two states, New Hampshire and Florida, when Ralph Nader received more votes than the difference between Bush and Gore. 

The closest state this year was/is Florida (Obama is ahead as of today, but the race has still not be called in his favor). Currently, out of over 8 million votes cast, Barack Obama leads Mitt Romney in Florida by just over 50,000 votes. Gary Johnson received over 44,000 votes in Florida (one of his worst performances in any state, only winning 0.5% of the vote). All other third party candidates received less than 10,000 votes. So, was/is Florida a "spoiler" state? Not at present. As all votes are counted (and potentially recounted), the gap between Obama and Romney might decrease. But no one has been labeling Johnson a "spoiler" in Florida so far, probably because whether or not Romney wins the state Obama will still win the White House. So who really cares what happens in Florida? :)

As Nate Silver had predicted, Ohio was the "tipping state" in 2012: the state that pushed Obama over the edge in the electoral college and handed him the presidency. But if Ohio was so important, the role of third parties there was not. Obama won the state by over 100,000 votes, more, it seems, than the combined results of all third party contenders combined. So, no spoiler here.

In every other state, either Obama or Romney won by at least two percentage points. I had predicted that if there was a "spoiler" effect this year it would 1) raise the profile of third parties (which is good), but also 2) potentially turn people off from voting third party as happened in 2000 (which is bad). So, let's just say there is no reason to be disappointed that there was no "spoiler" effect this year. Third parties need time to grow slowly... 

5) Death of the Two-Party Paradigm?

No. Not yet. This will take more time...

Total Third Party Presidential Election Support, 1960-2012 
(Source: I made this!)

It's not as if third party candidates made no progress in 2012. In fact, whereas only about 1.48% of voters selected a third party candidate for president in 2008, 1.56% of voters did the same in 2012, a 0.08% increase. Statistically significant? Probably not. As you can see in the graph above, support for third party candidates has risen slowly since 2004, but in the big picture (from 1960 to the present), little rises don't really matter. The differences in third party support between 1972 and 1976, say, don't matter when compared to 1968 or 1980. Same with the years 1984 and 1988. What is startling about the above data is that it seems that the 2004-2012 period represents the first time in at least half a century that three election cycles have come and gone without a major third party challenge to the two major parties. 1960-64 was interrupted by George Wallace's 1968 bid. 1972-76 was interrupted by John Anderson's 1980 bid. 1984-88 was interrupted by Ross Perot's two bids in 1992 and 1996. Nader did well in 2000, but not as well as any of those former third party challengers did, so in some ways we are in the midst of a four-election-cycle of third party irrelevance. To put this another way, come the 2016 presidential contest, it will have been 20 years since we last saw a third party candidate win over 5% of the popular vote, something that used to happen at least once every three cycles from the 1960s through the 1990s.

So, in many ways, we're not anywhere close to seeing the "death of the two-party paradigm." The question for 2016 is: do we strive to keep inching up support for third parties, maybe to 2% nationally? Or do we strive for a big win from a "celebrity" candidate — a Wallace, an Anderson, a Perot — even if it means more up-and-down-and-up-and-down support for third parties over the next fifty years?

6) The Justice Party?

I had wondered if Rocky Anderson's Justice Party might emerge in 2012 as a viable third party to challenge the Constitutionalists, Greens, and Libertarians. It did not.

Rocky Anderson, Justice Party presidential candidate, received less than 40,000 votes, securing only 0.03% of the national popular vote. That's not a horrible start. When the Libertarian Party ran their first presidential candidate in 1972, they received less than 0.01% of the popular vote. When the Constitution Party ran its first presidential candidate in 1992, they received only 0.04% of the vote (similar to Anderson's 0.03%). The Greens did better because they had Ralph Nader (winning 0.7% of the vote in 1996). So maybe the Justice Party has a future. Anderson's best performance was in Utah (his home state) where he won 0.5% of the vote. But in the fourteen other states in which he had ballot access, he performed rather poorly, usually worse than Johnson, Stein, and/or Goode. And of course, in the thirty-five states where he received only write-in votes (not yet tallied) if he received any votes at all, the Justice Party's lack of ballot access had the effect of pulling down Anderson's overall numbers nationwide.

I'm not saying that there isn't a future for the Justice Party in 2016. But we won't really know until then.

Odds & Ends

Top Third Party Presidential Candidates per State, shaded by their percentage of that state's vote, on a scale from 0% to 3%
U.S. Presidential Election, 2012 (Source: I made this!)

Readers really got a kick out of this map when I produced it a few weeks ago using the results of the 2008 presidential election. Well, here is the same map with the 2012 results. This map (like the red and blue maps we so often see) assigns each state a color based on which party won the most votes in that state. Only here I am excluding the Republicans and Democrats to see what the results would look like if only third parties ran for president! Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party would have won every state in the union except for Oklahoma, Michigan, and the District of Columbia (D.C.). Jill Stein of the Green Party won Michigan (largely because the Libertarians were kept off the ballot there by GOP shenanigans). But she legitimately won more votes than Johnson did in D.C., making the District the only place in the entire United States where Greens regularly perform better than Libertarians! (And, of course, Oklahoma doesn't allow any third parties at all.)

Percentage of Voters Selecting Third Party Presidential Candidates, on a scale from 0% to 4%
U.S. Presidential Election, 2012 (Source: I made this!)

This maps tells the viewer two things. The shading of each state (from light red to dark red) indicates the intensity of voter support for third party presidential candidates in 2012. The number within each state indicates the change in support for third parties from 2008 to 2012. So, first, we can see that in 2012 New Mexico, Alaska, and Maine led the way in terms of overall support for third party candidates. 4.1% of New Mexicans, 3.4% of Alaskans, and 3.1% of Mainers voted third party on Tuesday night. The data compares interestingly to 2008 when Montana led in support for third party candidates. I am not sure New Mexico would really be so red if not for Gary Johnson (since that is his home state), but Alaska and Maine are definitely long-term friends for third parties. Maine, for example, has the highest percentage of enrolled Greens of any state in the union. And Alaska was, by my reckoning, the last state to ever hand over 10% of its vote to a third party candidate for president. (That was Ralph Nader in 2000.) 

The numbers within each state are also interesting. The map demonstrates that support for third party candidates increased in every mid-Atlantic state as well as across the Rust Belt. From New York down to Virginia and west to Illinois, voters in every state came out in greater numbers for third party candidates in 2012 than they did in 2008. In New England, though, with the exception of Maine, support either remained the same (no number is listed in that case) or decreased since 2008. Elsewhere, across the entire South, for example, support for third party candidates either stayed the same or increased in 2012. However, starting with Michigan and heading west across the northern half of the western U.S., most states in 2012 gave less support to third party candidates than they did in 2008. This is especially true in some of the Rocky Mountain states. But support for third parties did increase slightly on the west coast. Overall, as already mentioned, support for third party candidates rose 0.08 percentage points in 2012 from 1.48% of the national popular vote to 1.56%.

Last but not least: Jill Stein Breaks the Glass Ceiling...

It has gone completely unreported, so I am going to report it: Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for president, won over 400,000 votes (0.34%) on Tuesday night, making her the most successful female presidential candidate in American history

Previous to Stein's historic success on Tuesday, the most votes ever received by a female presidential candidate were the nearly 220,000 votes won by Lenora Fulani, New Alliance Party candidate for president in 1988. That year, Fulani won 0.24% of the popular vote, coming in fourth place. By comparison, on Tuesday night Jill Stein won over 400,000 votes, won 0.34% of the popular vote, and also came in fourth place. In terms of her overall vote count and share of the popular vote, Jill Stein made history in 2012! (Of course, female vice-presidential candidates, such as Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, received more votes than Stein did, but Stein is the first woman at the head of a ticket to either win over 400,000 votes or over 0.3% of the popular vote.) Congratulations, Jill!!


  1. Only half the states have finished counting the votes, so the various vote totals listed above in this excellent article are not final.

  2. Hi Richard,

    I don't doubt that you are right about that. I'll be interested to see the data when the results are finalized.

    Thanks for reading!