WASHINGTON, NOVEMBER 8—The presidential election may have been so close not because of any great divide among the citizenry, but because people have a genuinely hard time telling Al Gore’s New Democrats from George Bush’s compassionate conservatives.
The wrangling over who won won’t stop with a recount, since the media are full of stories of voting irregularities in Florida. These may end up feeding lawsuits in the next few weeks, and they will certainly be the stuff of conspiracy theories for years to come.
But the biggest surprise of the evening was the wreck of the Green Party, which figured on winning 5 percent of the vote and thus qualifying for federal matching funds in the presidential election. The Greens didn’t come close, with candidate Ralph Nader managing to pull more than 5 percent in only a few states, for a nationwide average of slightly less than 3 percent.
That paltry showing stands in contrast Nader’s strong showing in preelection surveys. In the days just prior to the vote, he gained a couple of percentage points in national polls and seemed to have a chance at nabbing 5 percent. Yet in the end, the Gore camp may have succeeded in frightening off hordes of Nader voters with the specter of a Bush victory. That’s a strong measure of defeat—and an indication of just how conditional the support for Nader was.
Still, in an election that appears to hinge on a few hundred votes in one state, the Nader campaign may have made the difference. Exit polls by the Associated Press showed half of Nader’s supporters would have voted for Gore in a two-way race, and 30 percent wouldn’t have cast ballots at all. Nader pulled 95,000 votes in Florida, for 2 percent of the vote.
Florida election officials are now waiting for an unknown number of absentee ballots to come in from military personnel overseas. In the last presidential contest, Florida received some 2300 of those ballots, which this year would be more than enough to tip the state’s 25 electoral votes in either direction.
Nader promises the Greens will run candidates all across the country in 2002 and will act as a watchdog party in Washington. Certainly Nader and his groups—Public Citizen, most notably—will keep on being watchdogs, but the prospect of the tiny, fractured Green Party ever becoming much of a political force seems pretty distant.
Moreover, this drubbing will harden the resolve of the Clinton-Gore New Dems to ostracize the left wing of the party, some of which had broken off and gone with Nader.