In the days since the 2016 Presidential election, there’s been much debate and prognostication as to what went wrong and how Hillary Clinton could lose to Donald Trump. Where did the polling go wrong? Where did the strategy fail? Why did we lose?

As has been my experience in the 15 years I’ve been working in politics the blame is rarely accepted as an internal one, instead, outside factors become the fall guy. Party or campaign decisions, consultants, or the candidates themselves, sport Teflon jackets where the reality of it all slides right off. This election postmortem has so far seen exactly that. Democratic operatives and partisans are already looking at outside forces trying to figure out which narrative will play best to the base.

One popular opinion that has gotten some play is the blame being laid on those who voted for third party candidates. You can see an example of that with this Tweet from Rachel Maddow:

The problem is there’s absolutely no evidence this is the case and its “logic” is based on no actual data. I haven’t seen any data that suggested that Stein, Johnson, or McMullin voters would have supported either Trump or Clinton as a second choice (as opposed to leaving the space blank) and we don’t know in what percent they might have voted for either candidate. Assuming any motivation ignores grievances or policy disagreements they had with either of the two major candidates that prevented their voting for them. It also smells of entitlement.

But, I decided to do a bit of a logic problem and with see how things would play out if the votes shifted in certain ways.

The first idea was what if the entire voting block shifted in the following ways based on their likely political leaning based on their candidate.

  • Stein voters were added to Clinton’s totals
  • Johnson was added to Trump’s totals
  • McMulling was added to Trump’s totals

The end result is Trump’s margin of victory increasing. He gains Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, and New Mexico, and wins the popular vote by 3 million votes. There’s no change to the results other than the popular vote.

The second split is a bit of a hybrid shifting.


  • Stein voters were added to Clinton’s totals
  • Johnson was split based on the percent of the vote each candidate received in general
  • McMulling was added to Trump’s totals


There again is a shift. Clinton now picks up Wisconsin and Michigan and wins the popular vote by about 1 million votes. Again, there’s little difference. Trump still has the majority of the electoral votes and still loses the popular vote.

The third version I added up the third party candidate vote and gave it out based on the percent of the vote both Clinton and Trump received with the remainder 5.16% of the vote not included in either total. In that shift neither candidates gains any Electoral College votes at all. No states shift and her popular vote total increases by just 5,000 votes.

It would take a majority of Johnson and all of Stein voters to have made a difference and there is absolutely no evidence that a majority of Johnson supporters would have voted for Clinton.

While we are all still trying to figure out what happened this is an argument that just doesn’t hold water. It also distracts us from really getting at the root cause of Tuesday’s loss. No matter what that may be.

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