Did Third Party Votes Cost Clinton the Election?



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I’ve noticed that on my social media feeds a lot of people are deeply upset that Donald Trump was elected President. Well, technically, he hasn’t been elected yet. The Electoral College will meet on Monday, December 12th, 2016 in their respective state capitals to cast their votes, but it’s highly unlikely anyone will be a faithless elector.

One of the biggest claims is that people voting third party cost Clinton the election. Is this really true? Let’s look at some numbers for four different scenarios, and then I’ll say whether it’s true or not.

Note: I got these numbers from a Google search on November 10, 2016. You can see my spreadsheet here.

Case 0: It is as it is

Clinton: 233
Trump: 305

This is how things stand now - with 233 votes pledged for Clinton and 305 pledged for Trump. Note that there are two states that do not necessary have all their chose electors for one candidate - namely, Maine and Nebraska. According to the source, however:

…the statewide winners have consistently swept all of the state’s districts as well. Consequently, neither state has ever split its electoral votes.

Case 1: Third Party Votes Never Cast

Clinton: 233
Trump: 305

For this case, I’ll focus on two states: Utah and Arizona. Utah because Utahns cast the highest percentage for third party (28% percent for Clinton, 47% for Trump, and 25% for a third party), and Arizona because it was one of the closest states to a tie (888,374 votes for Clinton, 972,900 votes for Trump, and 98,779 votes for a third party).

If those people who voted third party had not voted at all (or at least for president), then, in Utah, Trump would have received 63% of the vote and Clinton would have received 37%. Similarly for Arizona, Clinton would have received 48% and Trump 52%. Trump still wins, and this is true across all states.

I find this to be the most likely scenario.

Case 2: Third Party Votes Go to Clinton

Clinton: 325
Trump: 213

This scenario is probably what everyone who is complaining about thinks (or is wishing) would’ve happened. If so, she would have won Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin, transferring 92 votes from Trump to her, enough to make her win.

I highly doubt every third party would’ve voted for her as their second choice, however.

Case 3: Third Party Votes Go to Trump

Clinton: 182
Trump: 356

This is the opposite of case three. Here, all third party votes would’ve ended up with Trump. In this case, Trump gains Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Virginia for 51 more votes.

Case 4: Third Party Votes Are Split Equally

Clinton: 233
Trump: 305

In this final scenario (that I’m presenting, at least), third party votes “siphoned off” an equal amount of votes from both Clinton and Trump. This case is as unexciting as the first one.

Let’s look at Utah and Arizona again. In Utah, Trump would have received 60% of the vote and Clinton would have received 40%. For Arizona, Clinton would have received 937,763 and Trump 1,022,289. (Some poor voter’s vote got split down the middle.) Trump will still win, and again this is true for all states.

Closing Remarks

A few other scenarios I didn’t cover were if all Libertarian votes went to one candidate, and all Green votes went to another, all male third party votes went to another, and so on. Feel free to download my spreadsheet and play with it as you see fit.

Did third party votes cost Clinton the election? Should there have been only two candidates on the ballot in every state?

I say no. Should we force people to vote for who we want them to vote? If so, then what is the point of elections?

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