Iowa's Third Parties Analyze Election Outcome
Only two percent of Iowa voters supported third party presidential candidates this year, but Iowa's third party activists are more analytical than disappointed when they examine their levels of support.
“My suspicion is that there is a kind of 'automatic' knee-jerk third party vote which is almost always guaranteed,” said Holly Hart of the Iowa Green Party. “None of the third party candidates since Nader's 2000 run have broken past that.”
Third party vote percentages dropped steadily from Ross Perot's 1992 peak through 2004, but held about steady, increasing just slightly. from 2004 to 2008.
“Perhaps just the increase in voter turnout drew out more third party votes; plus, I think conservative third party supporters tend to be less apt to part from their far-right third party candidates,” said Hart.
Ralph Nader finished in third place in Iowa with 0.5 percent of the vote. Libertarian Bob Barr was narrowly ahead of Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party; each had 0.3 percent. Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney was sixth with 0.1 percent.
The Iowa rank order was the same as the national rank order. The gap between Barr and Baldwin was much closer in Iowa than the nationwide percentage. But a state to national comparison is a bit misleading. Baldwin missed the ballot in some large states including California, New York and Texas. According to Ballot Access News, 95 percent of voters nationwide saw Barr on their ballots, as opposed to only 60 percent who had Baldwin as a choice.
“I perceive the Constitution Party as our immediate competition for undecided voters who are fed up with the statist parties,” said Kevin Litten of the Iowa Libertarian Party. Litten said Baldwin's strong performance in Iowa was a surprise, but credited libertarian Republican Ron Paul's endorsement of Baldwin for much of the Constitution Party candidate's support.
“Voters are more pragmatic, not interested in risking a vote for a top-of-the-ticket third party candidate,” said Hart. “But an increasing number are willing to vote for down-ticket candidates if they think they can actually win.”
In the highest profile down-ballot race for a third party, Green 2nd Congressional District candidate Wendy Barth won 2.2 percent. Barth was the Green candidate for governor in 2006. “Considering that I put much less effort into this run compared to the governor's race, I'm pleased with my showing this time around,” said Barth. “In many of the counties in the 2nd district you will find more straight ticket Green voters than there are Greens registered in that county.”
Barth and independent candidate Brian White were included in one of the two 2nd District debates, and Barth said she won some media attention. “The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette consistently mentioned my name in articles about the race, usually a quick last sentence: 'Green Party candidate Wendy Barth is also running.' The (Iowa City) Press-Citizen was gracious as well.” But Barth said she needed reach out beyond the district's two largest counties.
The Libertarians and Greens won a place on Iowa's voter registration forms at the beginning of 2008, the first time any third parties have had status since Nader's 2000 run as a Green. Nader ran this year on the “Peace and Freedom” ticket and finished far ahead of Green nominee McKinney.
“Nader was expected to get more votes than the other third party candidates from all ends of the spectrum,” said Hart, “because he is more widely known, and because he had $4 million and paid field coordinators in 35 states, and was on more ballot lines because he was able to hire petitioners.”
“I suspect some of Nader's votes would have gone to McKinney had he not been in the race, possibly placing her ahead of Baldwin,” said Hart.
“Nader is well-known and respected, and has a greater following. It takes a lot to become recognized, once you have that recognition it gets easier, as incumbents well know,” said Barth. “McKinney is often portrayed in an unflattering light in the media.” (Most reports about McKinney mentioned a 2005 confrontation with a Capitol Hill police officer during her last term in Congress.)
Third parties often minimize the difference between Democrats and Republicans, but both Greens and Libertarians seem to acknowledge that Barack Obama's win over John McCain was significant. “In 2008, there was the double phenomenon of Obama and the overall substantial increase in pre-caucus interest, with the view toward getting past the Bush administration,” said Hart.
“I expect the Republicans to regroup in some way over the next four years which could either hurt us or help us,” said Litten. “The same can be said for what the Democrats do while in office.”