Can Bush Mk.II suffer a "Perot effect" (2)

Last Thursday, I wrote about the reasons why Democrats could choose to highlight the disagreements that exist between many conservative and libertarian voters with the record of George Bush Mk.II. There is an important point to consider as to why the fringe parties may not actually affect the result.

"In November 2000, the Green Party - represented by Ralph Nader - took sufficient votes in Florida to ensure that the Democrat Al Gore would lose." This view is held almost universally among the Democrat campaigners and is the reason why they have made every possible attempt to stop Nader from standing in 2004. To the extent that many libertarians feel more at home with fiscally-responsible Republicans, one could imagine a similar problem for George Bush Mk.II this year. After all, that is exactly what Ross Perot is credited with: punishing Bush Mk.I and letting Bill Clinton in with a spectacularly low share of the vote.

However, there are two reasons why such an extrapolation may be unfounded. In the first place, the Libertarian Party has contested every presidential election since 1972. During this time it has never polled much more than one percent in a presidential campaign, although much higher scores have been achieved in statewide contests. It is probably fair to say that the vast majority of Libertarian Party voters in 2000 also voted that way in 1996, and that those that were eligible to vote also did so in 1988 and 1992. If they did not vote for Reagan in 1988, they would not vote for Bush Mk.II in 2000 or 2004.

As for switching voters there is a calculation to be made. In an online questionnaire I was asked thirty questions and the "ideal candidate" for me was calculated. No one achieved 100%. One of the fringe candidates scored 67% for me, one of the two major party candidates scored 65%, the other major candidate scored 30% and most of the other fringe parties scored less. If the choice to right or left wing voters were between two major party candidates scoring let us say 40% of their approval and a fringe candidate scoring 80%, then I believe that we could expect people to vote for their principles ahead of voting tactically.

In a wide-open contest the temptation to vote for one's beliefs ahead of tactical concerns is also strong. But one thing most people agree on is that the 2004 election will be tight. Therefore the cost of voting for 'purity' is very high. Vote against Bush's public spending increases and you could get Kerry who spends more. Vote against Kerry's watered down liberalism and you could get Bush revoking abortion rights, outlawing gay marriage and continuing an aggressive militaristic policy.

Of course if large numbers of people act on the notion that the election could be tight, I would not be at all surprised to see a landslide.

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