Conservatives did better in Tuesday’s elections than you might think.

Why? The under-analyzed appeal of third party right-wing candidates.

First, some basic facts. While Obama is poised to get 61 percent of the electoral college vote, he only got 51 percent of the popular vote. He also got nine million less votes than in 2008 – overall, voter turnout was lower by close to 13 million, as Matt Stoller noted.

But Obama’s electoral college lead would have been lower if third party challengers did not (likely) cost Romney the electoral votes of Florida. While this would not be enough to have swung the election Romney’s way, it shows that the combined right wing party vote beat Obama in Florida – despite the obvious advantage that the Democratic guardians of social security should have among the elderly voters that matter so much in that state.

Let’s look at the House of Representatives.

The House, of course, basically didn’t change composition, with the Republicans still in control. The GOP took some hits in Illinois, Florida and New Hampshire, but made some pickups in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana. The end result was a net gain for the Dems of only three seats as of the moment.

But this would have been wiped away (or at least reduced to one) without the Libertarian Party. Republicans could have likely picked up Democrat John Tierney’s  House seat, and held onto Frank Guinta’s New Hampshire 1st district seat, had it not been for Libertarian Party candidates.

Turning to the Senate, the Dems had a net gain of 2 seats.

But this would have been wiped away if it weren’t for third party spoilers on the right. If not for libertarians, Republicans would have picked up an additional Senate seat in Montana, and held onto the Indiana Senate seat. The Ohio and New Mexico Senate races would have also been considerably closer.

There were some other trends that should have Dems worried.

Popular Senate Dems in Ohio and Pennsylvania had a tougher time on their hands than they would have liked, and did only a bit better than the president in those states. Tim Kaine, a popular former governor in Virginia, also eked out a narrow victory. (Vermont’s socialist incumbent Bernie Sanders was the exception to this otherwise tough time that economic populists had, winning over 71 percent of the Vermont vote – higher than Obama.)

The Democrats’ brand was not great elsewhere either.

Luck probably played a role in Indiana, Missouri, Montana, and North Dakota, where the Democratic Senate candidates vastly outperformed the president. In the first two, controversial comments about rape from the GOP candidates probably helped, while the latter two are small states where the candidates emphasized their distance from the national Democratic Party. (Put Maine in this camp too, where the official and unofficial Dem candidates collectively outperformed the president.)

Finally, the president outperformed Senate Democratic candidates in Nevada (who lost), and in Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Wisconsin (who all won), suggesting some hard work for feebler candidates that will have to run in the future in states where Obama had clear appeal, but without Obama’s coattails to help.

All of this suggests a steep climb for Democrats in elections to come. The party will have to come up with an answer to the apparent widespread appeal of radical austerity.

And they’ll have to get over their very confused messaging on issues like trade. As my former colleagues at Public Citizen noted, 40 percent of House and Senate candidates that campaigned for fair trade in the 2012 races voted against it more often than they supported it. Given the widespread use of China and offshoring in campaign ads, it seems undeniable that the party that gets that issue right will have clear advantages, if only they can deliver.

One thought on “Spoiler

  1. Just to add one more note. In addition to the NH-1 and MA-6 seats, Libertarians “spoiled” the GOP chances in AZ-1 (Kirkpatrick) and NY-24 (Maffei) seats. So this is the total of the net 4 pickups that Dems got, according to the NYT as of this moment.

    Add this to the 2 net losses for GOP in the Senate (i.e. where the MT and IN Senate races were “spoiled” for the Republicans by Libertarians), (and you could add Angus King’s independent run in Maine, which cost the GOP the Snowe seat), and the third party constituted the entirety of the net change in Congress. Of course, some races remain to be called in the House, so it is unclear what ultimate net effect will be, but seems like Dems may want to see how they can help boost the appeal of Libertarians! 😉

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