Did Gary Johnson Cost Clinton the Election?


About three times as many people voted for third party candidates in 2016 as did in 2012 – roughly 3.7 million votes as of now. In a close election, it’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had not been in the race. Vanity Fair concluded: “it is also undeniable that third-party voters cost Clinton the election.”

Actually it is deniable, or at least analyzable. According to CBS analysis of exit polls, most of these voters said they wouldn’t have voted at all. But of those who said they would have voted, 25% said they would have gone for Clinton, while 15% would have gone for Trump.

So the third party candidates hurt Hillary more. But would it have been enough?

For the popular vote, the disappearance of Johnson and Stein would have added at least another 540,000 votes (and probably more as that calculation is based on the current popular vote tally which is still changing).

The calculations are a bit less precise on the state level because I had to apply the national exit poll data down into state elections. The voter behavior could be different on a state level. But since that’s all we have, let’s try it out.

Michigan would have gone to Hillary instead of Trump.

Florida, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would have stayed with Trump albeit by tiny margins – just 53,000 in Pennsylvania, 44,113 in Wisconsin, and a Florida-like margin of 13,000 in Florida.

The final electoral college vote:   290 for Trump, 248 for Clinton.

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Steven Waldman is founder of LifePosts.com, a platform for online memorials and life milestones. He's a Washington Monthly contributing editor, journalist and author.