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Republicans For Nader's Candidacy

Tacitus has a much-lauded post up criticizing Republicans for supporting Ralph Nader's candidacy. His main argument, which has gotten the most attention, is that while it may be useful in the short term to siphon some votes away from Kerry, they risk helping to build up a viable far-left party that would be really inimical to Republican interests. It's an interesting point, especially given Matt Yglesias's example of how a similar strategy backfired on the Russian Czar when he tried to support the Bolsheviks against the Mensheviks, though I'm still a bit skeptical of how likely it is to happen, especially given that Ralph has lost the support of the country's most viable third party, the Greens.

But I was more interested in this passing reference in the post:

Can I fairly assume that no actual Republican had any use for this effort and money you're putting forth? None? Just asking.

Republicans for Nader's Candidacy seem to have been suckered in by the "a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" idea, making them think a dollar spent on either candidate is just as good. But even if we grant that Nader voters are "naturally" Kerry voters -- that Kerry has a presumptive claim on their vote in the absence of Nader -- a vote for Nader is only half of a vote for Bush. It deprives Kerry of a vote, but it doesn't add to Bush's total in the way that a Kerry-to-Bush switch by a center voter would.

Now, it may turn out to be the case that some money is better spent boosting Nader than boosting Bush. It all depends on the price of a voter. If, say, you can get 100 Kerry voters to switch to Bush with a $1000 ad, and you can get an equal number of them to switch to Nader with an ad of the same price, then obviously you (as a Republican) should invest in the "switch to Bush" ad. But voters in the middle are already the main target of both campaigns. The huge amount of spending in this election cycle may mean you've hit a period of decreasing returns. If your $1000 ad now only convinces 40 people to switch from Kerry to Bush, the Nader ad is a better investment. It seems like the kinds of basic things that Republicans are helping Nader with -- like getting his name on the ballot -- are relatively cost-effective as compared to what the Bush campaign could do with their money.

(Moe Lane-esque disclaimer: Seeing as I'm one of those lefties*, I may be putting a positive spin on the cost-effectiveness of supporting Nader, and expressing skepticism about Tacitus's main argument, in order to trick Republicans into wasting their money on Nader and creating a socialist juggernaut. As always, read advice from the other side at your own risk.)

*Moe Lane-esque footnote: Horse-race and tactical stuff aside, I'm not much of a fan of Nader on the substance of his candidacy. Then again, saying that may be another devious trick ...


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