Tuesday, September 07, 2004

How close does it need to be for Nader to matter? 

The APSA meetings continued over the weekend, as Daniel Drezner has reported a couple of times (this link has links to other APSA blogposts), and the Chronicle of Higher Education has a roundup of papers on voting and elections (link for subscribers only.) The paper that caught my eye was one on how many voters for Nader in 2000 would have gone for Gore or Bush if the election were held without Nader (or Buchanan). There appears to be an earlier version of the paper here. The interesting result, as quoted in the Chronicle, is that 39% of Nader voters would have voted for Bush were Nader not available on the ballot. They get this result by examining the actual ballots in Florida that were archived after the 2000 election and examining voting patterns for down-ticket offices.
The two scholars have analyzed "down ballot" votes -- that is, the choices that people who voted for Mr. Nader or Pat Buchanan for president made in races further down the ballot, such as those for the U.S. Senate, the state Legislature, and local offices. From those down-ballot choices, Mr. Herron and Mr. Lewis made inferences about the voters' partisan preferences. In Broward County, for example, they found that only 18.36 percent of people who voted for Mr. Nader for president voted a straight Democratic ticket on the rest on the ballot.

Mr. Herron and Mr. Lewis weighted the down-ballot races in various ways, to give preference to races that were most likely to reveal a true partisan preference. If, for example, a person voted for a popular incumbent state legislator who faced only token opposition, that vote was not necessarily a strong signal of partisan preference. How that person voted in a tightly contested race was a much stronger signal of general political or ideological preference.
Given the efforts made by Republicans to get Nader on ballots in battleground states, this paper would be an indication that the effort might not get that much bang for the buck unless that state's outcome is expected to be very close. But screaming and scheming continue in places like Virginia and Oregon. Nader has been bumped off the ballot in Georgia, Oklahoma and Indiana so far; none of those states are really battlegrounds. In contrast, Minnesota is, and only has a requirement of 2000 signatures ... and the Democrats are not fighting ballot access here.
"Naw, he'll probably be able to get on, no problem," [state DFL chair Mike] Erlandson said. "Voters here are pretty savvy, so he might even help us by giving disenchanted Republicans who won't vote Democratic somewhere else to go."