Plurality Rules Transform the 2000 Presidential Race: Al Gore and Ralph Nader
    The drama in Florida in 2000 focused national attention on electoral rules and practices -- primarily on outdated voting equipment, but also on the Electoral College, plurality voting and winner-take-all elections themselves. After 35 days and one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in history, Republican George W. Bush gained Floridaís 25 disputed electoral votes.   He thus won the presidency with 271 votes in the Electoral College, only four ahead of Democrat Al Gore.

    After two terms as vice president, Gore was the first presidential contender since 1888 to win the national popular vote (by slightly more than 540,000 votes), but fail to win the Electoral College. Bush won 47.9% of the popular vote and Gore 48.4%. The popular vote in the House and Senate over the past three elections also has been nearly deade even, with the Senate ending 50-50 after the November electins and the Republicans holding a narrow edge in the House.

    This remarkable numerical closeness lent ìspoilerî power to any third party with the numbers to tip the balance ñ in which the two party, winner-take-all electoral system currently causes votes to contribute to the major party less aligned with the voterís preferences. For example, progressive Green Party candidate Ralph Nader attracted media attention in the final weeks of the campaign as he refused to encourage his supporters to vote for Gore and instead campaigned in several of the most hotly contested states.  .

    In the last month of the campaign, Nader Trader websites sprang up to arrange vote trades - a Nader supporters would pledge to cast their votes for Democrat Gore in states where the presidential race was expected to be close, and in exchange, a Democrat would agree to vote for Nader in states where Bush was expected to win. Not sanctioned by the campaigns, the exchanges were designed to help Gore in swing states and give the Green Party the 5 percent of the national vote it needed to win federal campaign money.  In the end, however, neither side got its way. Nader polled less than 3% of the popular vote and did win enough votes in Florida and New Hampshire to tip them toward George Bush. The Florida 547-vote margin was so close that Nader's 97,488 votes obviously would have tipped the difference, while Nader's 22,188 votes in New Hampshire far outstripped the 7,211 votes separating state winner Bush from Gore.

    Of course George Bush supporters could point to Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan and Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne as at least potential spoilers. While Gore likely would have won the presidency if only Gore and Bush had run, Bush would have won comfortably if Buchanan and Browne had not been running The Browne-Buchanan vote - which, while not uniformly conservative, likely heavily leaned toward Bush over Gore - was more than Gore's margin of victory in Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin and also would have put Florida clearly beyond Gore's reach no matter how the recount had been conducted.

National Vote Totals:

Candidate and Party Popular Vote
Electoral College Vote
 Al Gore: Democrat
 50,128,338 48% 266*
 George Bush: Republican
 49,800,372 48% 271
 Ralph Nader: Green
 2,781,109 3% 0
 Pat Buchanan: Reform
 445,124 0% 0
 Harry Browne: Libertarian
 382,869 0% 0

Plurality Victories in 2000

10 plurality victories total:

  • 4 won by Bush (54 Electoral College Votes)
  • 6 won by Gore (44 Electoral College Votes)

    Of 10 states won by a plurality: None were won with less than 45%; the lowest winning percentage was in Oregon, where Gore won with 46.96%, Bush took 46.52%, and Nader won 5.04% of the vote.  Indicative of the closeness of the race, the average difference between the vote for the major parties in these 10 states was 1.69%.

    GOP - Republican candidate George Bush
    DEM - Democratic candidate Al Gore
    GRN - Green candidate Ralph Nader
    REF - Reform candidate Pat Buchanan
    LBT - Libertarian candidate Howard Phillips

 State% of
 FL 48.85 GOP  25
  48.84 DEM 0.01 
  1.63 GRN
  0.29 REF  
  0.28 LBT  
 IA 48.54 DEM  7
  48.22 GOP 0.32 
  2.23 GRN REF/LBT 
  0.44 REF  Total
  0.24 LBT 0.68 
 ME 49.09 DEM  4
  43.97 GOP 5.12 
  5.70 GRN  
  0.68 REF  
  0.47 LBT  
 MN 47.90 DEM  10
  45.50 GOP 2.40 
  5.20 GRN  
  0.91 REF  
  0.22 LBT  
 NV 49.52 GOP   4
  45.98 DEM 3.54 
  2.46 GRN  
  0.78 REF  
  0.54 LBT  
 NH 48.07 GOP  4
  46.80 DEM 1.27 
  3.90 GRN  
  0.48 LBT  
  0.46 REF  
 NM 47.91 DEM  5
  47.85 GOP 0.06 
  3.55 GRN REF/LBT 
  0.34 LBT total 
  0.23 REF 0.57 
 OH 49.99 GOP  21
  46.44 DEM 3.55 
  2.50 GRN  
  0.57 REF  
  0.29 LBT  
 OR 46.96 DEM  7
  46.52 GOP 0.44 
  5.04 GRN REF/LBT 
  0.48 LBT total 
  0.46 REF 0.94 
 WI 47.83 DEM  11
  47.61 GOP 0.22 
  3.62 GRN REF/LBT 
  0.44 REF total 
  0.26 LBT 0.70 
Average Difference Between
Average GRN Vote
Average Sum of All Third Party Votes
States Won with less than 51%
 % of
  42.39 DEM8.36  
  5.25 GRN  
  0.73 LBT  
  0.60 REF  
 VT 50.63 D  3
  40.70 R 9.93 
  6.92 GRN  
  0.74 REF  
  0.35 GRN-VT
  0.27 LBT  
 WA 50.16 D  11
  44.58 R 5.58 
  4.14 GRN  
  0.53 LBT  
  0.29 REF  

Source: Federal Elections 2000, FEC June 2001   

**Analysis: If no third party existed and one makes  assumption ALL GRN vote D, ALL REF/LBT vote R (a convenient, not a valid, assumption) then Gore wins FL and NH, bringing his electoral vote total to a winning of 295. GRN is thus the primary spoiler affecting outcome.
However, IF GRN exists, but REF/LBT do not and ALL REF/LBT vote R, Bush picks up IA, NM, OR, and WI for a total of 301 electoral votes. REF and LBT did not change the outcome of the election, but did influence the electoral vote.         
*All gray shaded areas indicate a party statistically capable of acting as an electoral college spoiler.
6 won by Gore (44 Electoral College Votes)6 won by Gore (44 Electoral College Votes)