Back at the end of February, when Nader had announced his intention to run, Kevin Drum (then of Calpundit), suggested that while the mainstream media had to cover Nader, it might be best if he was ignored by the blogosphere, there being more important things to concentrate on. I remember agreeing with that, and I thought I had blogged to say so, but I can't find the entry now. (Maybe I made my agreement privately, I dunno.)
In any case while I have mananaged (for the most part) to contain my bile about the role Nader & the people who voted for him played in electing Bush in 2000, I have blogged about him now and again, and I'm going to do so again now, because I've come up with something that I think is interesting.
One of the consistent claims made by Nader and his partisans is that his candidacy did not (and will not) help elect Bush because he draws from both candidates equally. I've taken a look at a good number of polls that had both direct head-to-head Bush/Kerry numbers and three-way Bush/Kerry/Nader numbers, and I've found that Nader's claim is (as you might expect) not true, his being in the race hurts Kerry more than it hurts Bush. However, the Nader Effect is not as pronounced as you might think.
Using data posted on David Wissing's website, The Hedgehog Report, for both national head-to-head polls and national three-way polls, I matched up those performed by the same polling organization at the same time and found 43 pairs of results, ranging in date from Fox News on 2/18-19 to today's LA Times and Fox polls. Using these, I found that while in the head-to-head results Kerry was beating Bush by an average of 1.37 percentage points, in the 3-way results with Nader, he was losing to Bush by an average of 0.16 points. This means there is an observable "Nader Effect" of 1.53 percentage points drawn from Kerry.
Obviously, 1.53 points doesn't seems like an awful lot, and these are national results not a specific state-by-state comparison, but with many in-state polling results in a statistical dead heat, a point and a half pulled away from Kerry could turn out to be very significant. After all, in 2000 there were 5 states in which the winner was determined by less than that: New Hampshire (Bush by 1.27), Oregon (Gore by 0.44), Iowa (Gore by 0.31), Wisconsin (Gore by 0.22) and, of course, Florida (Bush by 0.01 and Supreme Court fiat). I have every hope that the election won't be nearly as close, but, so far, these are no overwhelming indications that will be the case, and the 1 1/2 point Nader Effect may turn out to be extremely important.
You can see the effect in operation in a graph I made of all the head-to-head and 3-way results on Wissing's site. The red Nader-influenced results on the right cluster lower down than do the black head-to-head results, and more of the 3-way ponts are below the 0% (Kerry and Bush tied) line then the head-to-head points.
There are fewer in-state polls that provide both head-to-head and 3-way results, but I looked at those I had (12 of them: ACT & ARG in Florida, Research 2000 in Iowa, two Epic/MRA polls in Michigan, two ARG polls in New Hampshire, Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, Rasmussen and Research2000 in Oregon, and Badger and Rasmussen in Wisconsin) and found a Nader Effect there as well, and more pronounced. Head-to-head in these polls, Kerry averages 1.50 points over Bush; with Nader in a 3-way, Kerry runs behind by an average 0.42 points -- together, that's an in-state Nader Effect of 1.92 points.
If you combine the national and the in-state data, the total observed Nader effect is 1.62 points being drawn from Kerry, so I'd say it's reasonable to assume that he'll take away anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 points in the election, or possibly more, depending on what the undecideds do.
Update: Immediately after I initially posted this, I found that ARG had released results in New Hampshire, so I've updated the text to reflect those figures.
Update: Fox News also released national results today, so I've included those and rewritten the text. I don't plan to keep updating this continually, but may take a look at the figures periodically to see if the Nader Effect remains the same.
Update: Chris Bowers kindly links to this on MyDD and observes that the "Nader Effect" I've seen so far in polling results
seems to be slightly higher than Nader's national impact during the previous election. In 2000, exit polls of Nader voters showed the following set of preferences:
46% would have picked Gore
31% would have sat out the election
23% would have favored Bush
Considering Nader's national vote total of 2,883,105, this exit poll estimates that if Nader had not been on the ballot, Gore would have finished with 50.07% of the national vote, while Bush would have finished with 48.91% of the national vote. A 1.16% national victory would have been an improvement of 0.65% for Gore over his actual victory of 0.51%, almost a full-point less than the impact Ed documents in 2004.
So I guess this means that 1.5 points is a pretty big deal. Chris does issue the caveat that third parties generally poll better early on (before the conventions) and close to Election Day as well, but then don't get results commensurate with their poll returns.
For myself, I'll be happier if the Nader Effect either decreases, or Kerry's margins become large enough to swallow it whole, but there is (so far, and we've still got 5 months to go) not much sign of a big breakout for him yet.
Update: Make sure to take a look at the objections to my conclusion of an observable "Nader Effect" from Scott Pauls, who (if I've Googled the right person) is a professor of mathematics, and therefore much more conversant with statistics (and their pitfalls) than I am. His remarks (and my reply and his response) are in the comments thread here, on MyDD.
Update (6/15): Well, it looks like someone had already beaten me to the punch. I've just now found on the website Don't Vote Ralph a study, made about a month ago, which examined the 37 national polls available to that time, and showed that:
Of the 37 polls reviewed, 32 show Nader hurting Kerry, 4 show no effect, and 1 shows Nader hurting Bush (and that by a scant 1%).
While the percentage swings to Bush are all single-digit, the consensus is overwhelming, directly discrediting Nader’s claims.
In addition to national polls, we found state and special-interest polls that similarly compared Bush and Kerry head-to-head and with Nader added to the mix. Here the results were even more striking. Among other things, these polls (the first six in the above table) show Nader flipping New Jersey and Pennsylvania from Kerry to Bush, and causing an 8% surge for Bush among the large Arab-American vote in four critical swing states. These results alone would almost certainly swing the election to Bush.
The implications of these findings could be enormous. The nation is very closely divided, and it is extremely likely that in some battleground states, these numbers would determine the outcome. When a few percent of voters in a few states will determine the next president, Nader’s independent candidacy could well tip the balance.
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