Reports have suggested that Kanye West's stated intention is to siphon votes from Joe Biden.

Are there any historical precedents for similar campaigns from independent candidates to deliberately change the result?

To be more specific, are there any examples when a president would otherwise not have been elected were it not for a single independent candidate's (as opposed to a typical third party candidate's) attempt to sway the vote? I am aware that there are a few examples where independents have won the presidential election. I am talking specifically about where a candidate's sole (stated, or likely) intention was to support an existing Democratic or Republican candidate.

  • Please mention specific conditions. Are you looking for independent candidates that can be argied to have changed the result? Are you looking for "independent" candidates that have stated that their purpose is to siphon votes from a candidate they oppose? And what would constitute success? Siphoning a nticeable amount of votes? Flipping at least one state? The candidate they oppose losing, regardless of specific causes?
    – Peter
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 23:18
  • In addition to Perot, Nader was a recent example Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 23:23
  • @Punintended, Forgive me, I'm not very knowledgeable in this area, but as far as I can tell, Nader wasn't deliberately trying to help one particular candidate, right? Also, is it strictly neccessary to add the clarification for "third party candidate"... surely a third party candidate's intention would always be to win themselves rather than to influence the result of two leading candidates? It's fine to leave it, I'm just curious. Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 0:21
  • By "deliberately change the result", do you specifically mean running primarily to change the results between the 2 main party candidates (Like running to make Trump win), rather than running primarily to win or promote an issue, with helping another candidate being a side effect?
    – divibisan
    Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 0:29
  • @divibisan Yes that's right. That is what Kanye has been reported to have said. It may well not be true - but in any case it seems interesting to me whether such an approach would every be successful because it seems morally dubious. Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 0:32

1 Answer 1


I'm not aware of any occasions where a candidate has specifically admitted to running for President with the sole intention of siphoning votes from one of the two main candidates in order to facilitate a win for the other. However, a good example, similar in some ways to West's situation, is that of the Green Party nominee in 2000 - Ralph Nader.

Did his candidacy influence the election?

After the infamous Florida recount in 2000, Bush won the state by 537 votes. Given that Nader won 97,421 votes, it seems reasonable to suggest that without Nader's candidacy, Gore would have won Florida, and as a result, the election. This has been explored in academia, for example, Nader voters in the 2000 Presidential Election: what would they have done without him?, which evaluated the accuracy of exit polls published by the Los Angeles Times which suggested that 47% of Nader voters would have voted for Gore over Bush, compared to 21% who would have voted the other way. The study concludes;

These findings support the dichotomous nature of the exit poll results for Nader voters, as cited above. A majority of Nader voters would have voted, and were more likely to have voted for Al Gore over George Bush. However, a significant number of them would have stayed home on election day if Nader had not been a candidate. Our analysis suggests that the high level of educational achievement is one of the prime reasons why these Nader supporters would have remained within the electorate.

Additionally, in an article in Political Science Quarterly 2001 entitled The 2000 Presidential Election: Why Gore Lost, Gerald M. Pomper credits both Nader & Pat Buchanan with Bush's Florida win, among others:

Despite their small numbers, Nader's and Buchanan's supporters provided the margin of victory for Bush. If Nader had not been on the ballot, Gore would have carried Florida and all of the other close states easily, giving him a comfortable electoral total of at least 292. If Buchanan had not been a candidate, the Florida ballot might have been simpler to understand, giving Gore enough votes to win the national election simply by carrying the Sunshine State. Even without Florida, we might speculate-but cannot demonstrate-that an election without Nader would have enabled Gore to campaign in other winnable states (most obviously Tennessee and New Hampshire) and overcome his shortfall of only three electoral votes.

Members of the Republican party were also clearly aware that Nader's candidacy had potential to win them the election - the Republican Leadership Council ran pro-Nader TV ads in the run-up to the election.

Was this deliberate?

Assuming that Nader's candidacy indeed swung the election for Bush by siphoning votes from Gore, the question remains; was this intentional? If so, certainly Nader has never admitted it. In a 2016 interview with WBUR-FM, he gave the following comments:

On whether or not his candidacy hurt Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election

"Well, I believe that's inadvertently a politically bigoted comment. Because if we all have an equal right to run for election as we do, and we're all trying to get votes from one another as we do, then we're either all spoilers of one another or nobody is a spoiler. Because if they call third-party candidates spoilers but they don't call their major opponent in the other party a spoiler, they are assigning a second-class citizenship to the third-party candidacy. Having said that, what about 250,000 Democratic voters voting for Bush in Florida in 2000? What about all the shenanigans that distorted honest vote counting in Florida? What about Mr. Gore not getting his home state of Tennessee? What about the political decision, 5-4 of the Supreme Court, which should never have made that decision, to block the Florida Supreme Court’s ongoing recount in Florida. In short, any one of those, everything else staying the same, would have won for Al Gore. And Al Gore knows this, which is why he does not blame the Green Party."

On people who blame Al Gore's defeat his third-party run

"I think they are fact deprived. They're either fact deprived because they don't go through the facts as I've just narrated them. Or, they're looking for scapegoats. The Democratic Party felt a chagrin that they couldn't defeat a bumbling governor from Texas with a very poor record on children and on pollution and other things. And so they are looking for a scapegoat as to why they didn't landslide him, and the Green Party was a convenient scapegoat. That's not the first time major parties have scapegoat third parties and tried to turn them into third-class citizens."

However, there is evidence which might cast doubt on this. For example, an open letter published before the election by a group of former Nader supporters called on him to "ask your supporters, as we do now, to honor your ideas and to vote for the man who is most likely to put them into action - Al Gore". It also mentions a fundraiser earlier in the campaign where Nader was asked to withdraw:

In an early August fundraiser, in response to a direct request that you withdraw in light of the likely election train wreck you would cause you declined for three reasons.

First, you predicted that Pat Buchanan would reduce the Bush vote by a comparable number.

You were wrong.

Second, you said you would campaign only where your candidacy would not hurt Gore's ability to carry the state.

You now have broken that pledge to us as you have campaigned in Florida and Michigan among other states.

Third, you suggested that only "clairvoyance" could predict your impact on the race.

It no longer takes clairvoyance.

It is now clear that you might well give the White House to Bush.

In his previous campaign in 1996, Nader told the NYT:

If I really wanted to beat Clinton, I would get out, raise $3 million or $4 million and maybe provide the margin for his defeat. That's not the purpose for this candidacy.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2000, this was picked up on:

Rolling Stone: In 1996, you told the "New York Times," "If I really wanted to beat Clinton, I would get out, raise $3 or $4 million, and maybe provide the margin for his defeat. That's not the purpose of this candidacy." Since you're planning to raise $5 million and run hard this year, does that mean you would not have a problem providing the margin of defeat for Gore?

Nader: I would not -- not at all.

Finally, it seems that Nader wanted to in some way 'punish' or 'discipline' the Democrats, possibly by helping Bush be elected. In an interview published in Progressive Magazine he alluded to this:

Q: I'd like you to address the fear that the Greens will act as spoilers and help elect a worse alternative.

Nader: The political system is dominated by the two parties, two subsidiaries of business money, which carve up districts where each one of them is dominant and not competitive with the other. These two parties have generated such a spoiled system, it's impossible to spoil them in any third party manner. You can only purge them, displace them, or at the least discipline them to remind them that they're supposed to represent people, not big corporations.

In conclusion, then, Nader held animosity towards both major parties but probably decided that if his candidacy was to swing the election were to swing the election for Bush, it might not necessarily be a bad thing. It seems like Nader thought that the reaction to Bush's election would serve to bolster the Green Party's supporters. In an interview with NYT he made this quite clear:

Asked how he would feel on Nov. 8 if the man he considers such a joke was elected, he smiled, and even seemed to suggest he would prefer that outcome. "A bumbling Texas governor would galvanize the environmental community as never before," he said. "The Sierra Club doubled its membership under James Watt."

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