Al Gore: If You Care About The Climate Crisis, Don’t Vote For A Third Party

“In my experience, it matters a lot.”

AP Photo/Ed Reinke
AP Photo/Ed Reinke

Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush in part because of votes lost to third-party candidates. He has a simple message for fellow climate hawks who are contemplating a third-party vote in 2016: Please don’t.

In an exclusive interview last week, I asked Gore what he would say to voters concerned about climate change but dissatisfied with both major candidates and considering voting for a third party, such as the Green Party. He replied:

First of all I understand their feelings and misgivings. But if they are interested in my personal advice. I am voting for Hillary Clinton. I urge everyone else to do the same.

I particularly urge anyone who is concerned about the climate crisis, sees it as the kind of priority that I see it as, to look at the sharp contrast between the solar plan that Secretary Clinton has put forward, and her stated commitment to support the Clean Power Plan, and the contrast between what she has said and is proposing with the statements of the Republican nominee, which give me great concern.

We have written at length about the statements of Republican nominee Donald Trump at ClimateProgress. He has called global warming a hoax, denied the reality of California’s devastating drought, promised he would kill all domestic climate-related regulations (like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan), and vowed “We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement” — humanity’s last best chance to avoid catastrophic climate change lasting centuries.

I had the chance to interview the former vice president and world’s most famous climate activist in Houston last week at one of his Climate Reality speaker training events. In his characteristically understated fashion when talking about himself, Gore noted that on the matter of a vote for a third-party candidate, “in my experience it matters a lot”:

I would also urge them to look carefully, as I know they have, at the consequences of going in another direction for the third or fourth alternative…. The harsh reality is that we have two principal choices. And I am supporting Hillary Clinton.

Again I respect those who analyze the situation differently, but in my experience it matters a lot.

Readers may recall that in the 2000 election, Democrat Al Gore actually won the popular vote but narrowly lost the Electoral College to a guy named George W. Bush in part because of votes lost to third-party candidates — intentional votes for Green party candidate Ralph Nader (and, tragically, unintentional votes for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan).

Certainly, given the closeness of the election, many other factors influenced its outcome, including the untimely intervention of the Supreme Court to stop the vote recounting in Florida. But a 2006 “ballot-level” analysis concluded votes for Nader in Florida “did indeed spoil the 2000 presidential election for Gore.” For more, see this recent analysis and this mea culpa from a Nader voter.

I bring all this up because some readers contemplating a third-party vote may be too young to remember the details of that agonizing election. On that point, here is an important new chart of younger voters from FiveThirtyEight electoral analyst Harry Enten:

CREDIT: Fivethirtyeight.com
CREDIT: Fivethirtyeight.com

“Clinton’s margin over Trump among this age group is lower than we’d expect given how Obama did in the last two election cycles,” explains Enten. A key reason is the “unusually high share of under-30 voters saying they’ll vote third party.”

This could matter, “if the election becomes closer.” Indeed, I’d argue it matters even if the election doesn’t become closer, since the margin of victory in this election is also going to send a message to the nation and the world about just how much America does or does not embrace the values and policies of Donald Trump.

The bottom line: As Gore told me, he understands the “feelings and misgivings” of anyone considering voting for a third-party candidate this time around. He just considers it a mistake — especially if you care about the climate crisis.