On January 24, Truthdig published “An Open Letter to the Green Party for 2020”, which asks the Green Party not to run a presidential nominee in swing states. The signers are Michael Albert, Leslie Cagan, Noam Chomsky, Ron Daniels, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher, Kathy Kelly, Cynthia Peters, and Normon Solomon.
The authors attempt to be kind, open-minded, and dispassionate, but they display no awareness of the social science research that shows their proposal will not have the effects they expect.
In 1936, the Communist Party was passionately in favor of the re-election of President Franklin Roosevelt. Nevertheless, that party chose to run its own presidential nominee, Earl Browder, and to campaign vigorously. Back then, minor parties had a stronger voice, because federal law required the national radio networks to carry the proceedings of minor party presidential conventions, if those same networks carried the major party conventions. So the Communist Party national convention, with all its oratory, went out over the big radio stations. Also the Communist Party was very well-organized and had the capacity to promote a vigorous and sustained nationwide speaking tour for Browder. The Communist Party believed that the effect of Browder’s campaign, which sang the praises of the New Deal, would be to increase the vote for Roosevelt. There was a lot of uncertainty as to who would win that election, because the first presidential election poll, the Liberty Digest Poll, predicted Roosevelt would be defeated.
The Communist theory about the effect of its own presidential campaign is bolstered by academic research. In 2008 Dan Ariely published “Predictably Irrational”, which used experimental evidence to show what happens when someone is presented with three choices and must choose one. Suppose that two of the choices are similar, whereas the third choice is quite different. Research shows that if one of the two similar choices is clearly superior to the other similar choice, the superior choice gains an advantage on the choice that was quite different. Applying this theory to the 1936 election, Roosevelt and Browder were quite similar as to the policies they advocated. They both advocated for the New Deal. Landon, the Republican nominee, represents the choice that is quite different from the other two. Ariely’s research shows that a voter would consider Roosevelt far superior to Browder because the voter would know that Roosevelt had a chance to be elected, whereas Browder did not. So the effect of having the Browder option would be to help Roosevelt and hurt Landon.
Anyone who passionately believes that President Trump should be defeated for re-election, and who votes in a swing state, will understand that no matter how appealing the Green Party nominee is, the Democratic nominee is far superior simply because the Democratic nominee has the potential to win. So such voters will vote Democratic even if the Green Party is on the ballot.
The types of voters who will vote Green, regardless of the effect on the election, are the kind of voters who have a strong and visceral dislike for the Democratic Party. They are the kind of people who might vote for President Trump if there is no minor party candidate on the ballot, but who will not vote for Trump if they have the satisfaction of voting for a minor party.
There is other social science evidence. In 2004, the largest polling companies asked their pollsters to ask extra questions for any voter who said he or she intends to vote for Ralph Nader. The extra questions asked how the voter would respond if Nader weren’t on the ballot. A majority of them said they would vote for George W. Bush, not John Kerry. An analysis of the Nader vote published in the January 1, 2005 Ballot Access News supported this conclusion.