The Pathetic Failure of Green Party Candidate Jill Stein

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 8 2012 1:35 PM

The Pathetic Failure of Green Party Candidate Jill Stein

For the first time since 1992—seriously, it had been that long!—Ralph Nader opted out of the presidential campaign. The anti-Obama left-wing vote would be sought by Jill Stein, a sometime Green Party candidate in Massachusetts, who got some free press attention for 1) having previously run against Mitt Romney and 2) getting arrested when protesting her noninclusion in debates. Democrats didn't worry about her too much, but she polled as high as 2 percent in some surveys, and it wasn't hard to find the occasional Salon or TruthOut jeremiad demanding that the left punish Obama for his drone warfare ways.

How'd Stein do? Terribly! There's a hefty vote left to count in the West and in provisional ballots in states where Republicans played Parcheesi with polling places, but right now, Stein's won fewer than 400,000 votes nationwide. That's barely more than one-third as much as Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who left the GOP in a huff and ran an anti-war, pro-drug legalization Libertarian campaign. Roseanne Barr (yes, her), who ran a failed primary campaign against Stein (I should probably stop with the eyebrow-raise parentheticals) is pulling fewer than 50,000 votes. In Massachusetts, Stein ran fourth, with fewer than 20,000 votes, even though every Democrat in the state realized he could cast a spoiler vote if he wanted to. She's running behind Nader's smallest vote total in 2004 (463,655), when he left the Greens and their also-ran got 119,859 votes.

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Why'd she fail? Pretty obvious. Media coverage of the race suggested that it would be close. Stein, like Nader, collapsed when protest voters got skittish about throwing the election away from Obama. You can see this best in Florida, where Stein currently has 8,757 votes. In 2008, Nader got 28,128 votes in Florida. (He ran on the Ecology Party ticket.)

So, add this to the pile of Much-Hyped Stuff That Didn't Matter. Perhaps there was an anti-Obama vote on the left. It largely didn't show up or shifted to Obama. You could blame Stein for running on an idiotic "Green New Deal" (as if the president had failed to fund enough green energy) when activists left energy to focus on Bradley Manning and drones. Or you could shrug, because in the Post-Nader era, left-wing third-party energy is limited to dilettante white leftists with no real interest in or ability to organize beyond their affinity group.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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