In 2000, all eyes turned to Florida to watch one of the closest presidential elections ever, coming down to a margin of 537 votes. This year, Florida’s fate could once again lie with the state’s swing voters, who are struggling to choose between two candidates with historic unfavorable ratings.
For better or for worse, America has a two party system, making it notoriously difficult for minor candidates to take the White House. But third parties play a vital role in shaping national politics, says Florida Green Party spokesman Henry Lawrence.
“Third parties can make a world of difference. Third parties have played a huge role in changing this country and molding this country into what it is today. The third party of today is trying to do the same thing,” Lawrence said.
Major party officials know the power of third party voters all too well. That’s why they’re worried these voters could spoil the presidential election, by drawing votes away from the major candidates. President Barack Obama made this argument on the Steve Harvey morning show.
“If there’s one message I want to deliver to everybody: if you don’t vote, that’s a vote for Trump. If you don’t vote, that’s a vote for Trump. If you vote for a third party candidate who’s got no chance to win, that’s a vote for Trump,” Obama said.
But Florida Libertarian Party Chair Char-Lez Braden has no loyalty for the major parties, and has no problem “voting his conscience”.
“There are a lot of people who are holding your nose and pulling the lever so to speak. And that’s a terrible place for America to be. America should at least be proud of their leaders, or at least saying hey, these people are trying hard even if they’re not doing a perfect job,” Braden said.
But party officials argue this is exactly the time to vote strategically. Senator Bernie Sanders, who mobilized many young voters and independents, isn’t taking any chances.
“I think what the focus has got to be on now is understanding that this moment in history for a presidential election is not the time for a protest vote,” Sanders said.
And politicos still remember the 97,000 Florida voters in 2000 who turned out for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. They made up a mere 1.6% of the vote, which Democrats argue could’ve pushed Al Gore over the edge. But Green Party member Henry Lawrence says don’t blame him for the loss.
“You guys do your work, and I’ll do my work. But don’t play the blame game. That’s not adult. I’m sorry. That’s childish,” Lawrence said.
And Libertarian Char-Lez Braden says there’s virtually no chance of Clinton or Trump winning his vote.
“But considering what they’ve already said and their history so far, they’d probably have to talk to me personally face to face to make that happen,” Braden said.
According to the University of North Florida’s recent poll of state voters, Libertarian Gary Johnson has 6% of vote, Green Party candidate Jill Stein has 3% and 10% are still undecided. That could make the margin between Trump and Clinton very close. But political scientist Michael Binder at UNF says third party candidates do better in the polls than at the ballot box.
“Historically the libertarians don’t do particularly well, at least not here in Florida. I’d expect him to get a couple of points but I would be very, very surprised if he got above 4 or 5 percent. That would be a really, really high number. I’d expect it probably to be around closer to the 2 or maybe 3 percent range, and I’d expect Stein to be even less,” Binder said.
Binder says the results suggest third party voters are chipping away at Clinton’s lead over Trump, for now. But Binder says support for third party candidates will continue to erode ahead of Election Day. And the swing voters that will move? They’re more likely to swing towards Hillary Clinton, than towards Donald Trump.