How two other candidates could have cost Clinton the election

The third party candidates aided Trump's victory

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton walks off the stage after speaking in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 Image: Matt Rourke AP/Press Association Images

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton walks off the stage after speaking in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016 Image: Matt Rourke AP/Press Association Images

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton weren't the only two candidates in the race for the White House.

The pair faced outside pressure from third party candidates Gary Johnson, of the Libertarian Party, and Jill Stein, of the Green Party. Johnson gained over 3% of the popular vote, and Stein got 1%.

These figures are significant, considering third-party candidates only managed to get 1.7% of the vote in 2012, and 1.4% in 2008.

Showings in some states also arguably helped Trump. Trump won 290 Electoral College votes to 232 for Hillary Clinton, as of Wednesday evening. But had the Democrats managed to capture the bulk of third-party voters in some of the closest contests - Wisconsin (10), Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16) and Florida (29) - Clinton would have defeated Trump by earning 307 Electoral College votes, enough to secure the presidency.

In Michigan, where the election was so close that the Associated Press still hasn’t called the result, Trump is ahead by about 12,000 votes.

That’s significantly less than the 242,867 votes that went to third-party candidates in Michigan. It’s a similar story elsewhere: third-party candidates won more total votes than the Trump’s margin of victory in Wisconsin, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida. Without those states, Trump would not have won the presidency.

"And who would you vote for if you didn't vote for that candidate?"

The argument that "third party votes did it" remains a presumptuous one. Firstly, it assumes that a lot of voters’ second choice was Clinton. There’s little evidence that was true. Most polls – which, it turns out were deeply flawed – simply asked: “Who would you vote for if the election were held today?” Rarely was there a follow-up question of: “And who would you vote for if you didn’t vote for that candidate?”

The Johnson campaign regularly said they thought they were pulling support equally from would-be Trump supporters and would-be Clinton voters. Stein's campaign, appealed to disenchanted Democrats and former Bernie Sanders supporters.

Alternatively, had neither candidate ran, their voters may have abstained from voting altogether.

Stein told ABC News she thinks it's inaccurate to say her candidacy spoiled the race for Clinton because exit poll data suggests that only one-quarter of her supporters would have voted for Clinton.

She cited exit poll data that 25% of her supporters would have voted for Clinton, 15% would have voted for Trump and 55% said they would have stayed at home.

On the contrary, Johnson's campaign manager told POLITICO that his candidate hurt both Clinton and Trump.

“When we looked at the early results, we have to honestly say he was kind of pulling from both and that’s kind of how it’s moved through the campaign," Ron Nielson he said early Wednesday. "I think these results that we’re seeing tonight, I’m not really sure who the voters are that finally ended up voting."

“I think there’s probably a lot of voters that went to the voting booth thinking they were going to vote for Johnson and then just decided, 'To heck with it, I’m just not going to go. I’ve decided I’m not going to vote.’"

Ralph Nader in 2000

The situation mirrors that of the race in 2000. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader's share of the vote in that year's impossibly close Florida contest was 1.63%, according to the final totals from the Federal Election Commission. Bush won the state by just .05%, which tipped the Electoral College in his favor. 

However, Nader continues to deny his candidacy played a role in Bush's win. He's also recently spoken out against the two-party system in the US, calling it a "crime".