In this week’s Political Edge, we highlight a new article that makes the case that third-party voting sunk Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016 and take an updated look at House retirement numbers.
The Impact Of Third-Party Votes In 2016
Much has been made about the popular vote numbers President Trump and Hillary Clinton received in 2016 but a new analysis from Roll Call looks at a lesser discussed topic regarding the election: the impact third-party voters had on the results. According to numbers compiled by Stuart Rothenberg, 7.8 million voters cast their presidential ballots for someone other than President Trump or Clinton. All told, the two-major party candidates received 94.27 percent of the popular vote in 2016. How does that stack up to years past?
- In 2004, George W. Bush and John Kerry drew 99 percent of the popular vote.
- In 2008, Barack Obama and John McCain drew 98.58 percent of the popular vote.
- In 2012, Obama and Mitt Romney drew 98.26 percent of the popular vote.
Looking at state-level numbers, Rothenberg makes the case that third-party voting may have been a big reason Clinton did not get the electoral college votes she needed to win the election.
Pennsylvania – “The Democratic presidential nominee carried Pennsylvania in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Kerry’s and Obama’s popular vote margins in those three contests ranged from a low of 144,000 votes in 2004 to 620,000 in 2008. In all three elections, the Democratic nominee received a majority of the vote. The weakest showing was in 2004, when Kerry won 50.9 percent of the vote and defeated Bush in the state by 2.5 points. But in 2016, Trump carried the state by 44,000 votes — just over seven-tenths of a point, even though he won only 48.2 percent statewide. Obama and Romney combined for 98.6 percent of Pennsylvania’s popular vote in 2012, but Trump and Clinton combined for only 95.6 percent four years later. While third-party hopefuls drew 82,962 votes in the Keystone State in 2012, they drew more than three times that number, 268,304 votes, four years later. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters couldn’t stomach either of the major parties’ nominees so they cast protest votes for third-party and independent candidates.”
Wisconsin – “Wisconsin was near a dead heat in 2004 (Kerry won it by a mere 11,000 votes), but Obama carried it comfortably in 2008 (415,000 votes) and 2012 (213,000 votes). Then in 2016, Trump carried the Badger State by fewer than 23,000 votes. But Trump’s 1,405,284 votes in Wisconsin in 2016 was less than Romney’s 1,407,966 votes in 2012 — yet Trump carried the state while Romney lost it by over 200,000 votes. Third-party and independent hopefuls in Wisconsin drew 39,483 votes in 2012 but more than four times that number, 188,330 votes, in 2016. At the same time, the major party vote dropped from just over 3 million in 2012 to 2.8 million in 2016.”
Florida – “In Florida, the third-party presidential vote quadrupled from 73,000 votes in 2012 to 297,000 votes in 2016.”
Michigan – “In Michigan, it increased almost five-fold, from 51,000 to almost 251,000, while the total number of major party presidential votes in the state dropped.”
In the last week, the GOP has seen a series of incumbent House members announce they will not seek reelection next year. Rep. Paul Mitchell’s (R-MI) retirement announcement was followed shortly by similar statements from Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX), Marth Roby (R-AL), and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX). Pending his confirmation to be the Director of National Security, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) will add to the list of retirements during the 2020 cycle. As it stands, nine Republicans have elected to not seek reelection next year compared to four Democrats.
Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzalez points out that these numbers are still well below the historical average for retirements. Going back to 1976, an average of 23 House members have not sought re-election or another office each election cycle.
An April 2019 analysis by The Cook Political Report notes that typically, when a party loses its House majority, it then sees disproportionate retirements in the very next election, while the party with the newly acquired majority usually sees relatively few. For example, in 1996, after Republicans captured their first majority in the House in 40 years, Democrats saw 28 retirements in the next election, Republicans just 21. After Republicans lost their House majority in 2006, Republicans saw two-dozen retirements in 2008, compared to just three for Democrats. After Democrats lost their majority in 2010, 20 Democrats didn’t seek reelection in 2012.
With the August recess underway for members of the House, it is likely we will see more retirement announcements in the coming weeks.