Third-Party Candidates Johnson, Stein Could Have Cost Clinton the Election

President-elect Donald Trump won four key battleground states – Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida – in order to win the election. In all of these states, the vote total between Trump and Clinton was less than a few hundred thousand votes and, in some cases, only differed by as little as 11,000 votes.

When analyzing the results of the third party candidates – Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party – their votes add up to more than the difference between Trump and Clinton in these states.

Had Clinton been able to capture the support of these third party voters, would it have prevented Trump from having the edge he needed in these key swing states?

In Michigan, for example, Trump received 2,279,805 votes compared to Clinton’s 2,268,193 – a difference of 11,612. Johnson received 173,057 votes and Stein got 50,700. The results were similar in almost every other major swing state.


  • Trump/Clinton difference – 27,257
  • Johnson/Stein votes – 137,422


  • Trump/Clinton difference – 68,236
  • Johnson/Stein votes – 191,565


  • Trump/Clinton difference – 119,770
  • Johnson/Stein votes – 270,026

“Do third parties make a difference? Sure they do,” said Kevin Baron, Civic Engagement Coordinator at the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. “Look at Florida – Johnson and Stein combined received approximately 260,000 votes, which on a one-to-one equated to Clinton votes, she would have won. The problem with these assumptions … is there’s no way to know if the Johnson or Stein voters would have even voted, as it would be assumed they would not have wanted to vote for either Trump of Clinton.”

It’s impossible to know whether these third-party voters would have voted for Clinton, but polls throughout the campaign suggested independents were more likely to support Clinton if it came down to only her or Trump as the choices. Then again, this election also showed how flawed our polling and prediction methods are.

Even Johnson’s Libertarian vice-presidential nominee, Bill Weld, warned against voting for himself and Johnson in swing states.

“I’m here vouching for Mrs. Clinton and I think it’s high time somebody did,” Weld told MSNBC. “I see a big difference between the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate. And I’ve been at some pains to say that I fear for the country if Mr. Trump should be elected.”

Some third-party voters in swing states became aware of the larger effect they could have on the outcome of the election if they voted for Johnson or Stein. In response, they began “swapping” their third-party vote through apps such as #NeverTrump. For example, a Johnson supporter who lives in the battleground state of North Carolina can get matched with a Clinton supporter in New York. The Johnson supporter will then vote for Clinton in NC and the Clinton supporter will vote for Johnson in NY.

Of course, there could be a much simpler – and arguably more democratic – way of conducting elections: get rid of the electoral college.

“If we had a system where the president was popularly elected instead of through the electoral college, then third-party candidates would not be seen as “spoilers” in certain swing states,” Baron said. “Swing states would not exist and every vote in every state would count, and Clinton would be president right now and not Trump.”


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