Sunday, March 28, 2004

Who Were the Nader Voters? 

Matthew Yglesias has posted a critique of an Gadflyer article by Elaine Kamarck, which contends that Bush's sorry environmental record will return Nader voters to the Democratic fold. Yglesias reads her case as relying on an assumption that Naderites were primarily environmentalists, a reading of the piece that I don't share.

But it's still an interesting question: is it true that Nader voters weren't really primarily motivated by environmental policy? Based on the Naderites I knew personally, the environmentalism aspect seemed to me to be a major element of his appeal. Surprisingly, there has been basically no academic work published on this question: I've been able to find a total of one paper (by a new Harvard professor with the unlikely name of D. Sunshine Hillygus). The paper hasn't been published by a peer-reviewed journal, but it appears to be methodologically sound.

Hillygus's main focus is not on the question of Nader voters' policy preferences, but instead whether prospective voters who supported Nader at one point during the campaign ended up voting for him on election day. It turns out that Yglesias is correct, to some extent: environmentalists who initially supported Nader were more likely than the average Naderite to hold their noses and vote for Gore.

On the other hand, the results of the paper seem to show that Naderites were voting to send a message, not to elect a President. It's impossible at this point to say whether they still consider that a message worth sending. I certainly hope they've learned how utterly fruitless it is to use a vote in that manner.

P.S. I've written a bit more on the Nader/Green Party phenomenon here

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