Breitbart is pushing the theory that if Jo Jorgensen hadn't run, Trump would have won (assuming that he didn't). Is this correct? Is there objective proof that all (or enough) of her votes would have been for Trump if she hadn't run, such that he would have won? And that all of her voters would have voted, as opposed to not voting?

I'm not convinced on either count.

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    I'd also challenge the premise that Gore lost because of Nader, necessarily. But that's fodder for another question (that's probably already been asked). Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 15:25
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    While many libertarians favour Republicans because of the guns, small government and low taxes, others avoid them because of the drug war, immigration control, racism and "family values". Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 15:58
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    @Paul Johnson: And I strongly suspect that, like me, a good many voted against Trump not because of his policies (or those of the Republicans), but because of his personal characteristics.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 16:48
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    This may as well be summed up as, "if people voted differently, could the outcome have been different?" Well, yes, yes it could! Pointless... Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 22:24
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    I have to challenge the general premise of the question. People don't go to poll stations just to vote for the most suitable candidate on the list, they go because they feel like they have support a certain candidate. If Jo Jorgenson weren't there, there is a good chance they wouldn't go and vote. If it were in Turkey, the question might make sense because election turnout there is spectacularly high compared to USA but it doesn't make any sense for USA.
    – ck1987pd
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 15:54

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: It's a virtual impossibility, but mathematically possible. If Trump won a large majority of Libertarian votes, he could have won key states. Four states are in play. One combination gives him a tie and a possible win in the House. Winning all four gives him a win. The rest are Biden wins.

With all races called, Biden has 306 electoral votes, needing to lose 37 to tie the election and send it to the House, and lose 38 to lose outright.

The most obvious states to flip are Pennsylvania (20), and at least one 16-vote states (Michigan, Georgia) plus Nebraska's 2nd congressional district (Omaha, 1 vote), OR Pennsylvania, Arizona (11), and Nevada (6). Wisconsin (10) is also a candidate.

I'm assuming this question is something like "If only Trump and Biden were on the ballot, would Trump have won after Jorgenson's voters realigned?"

I have rounded because results1 aren't final. "%B" is the percentage of the Libertarian votes (L votes) which would need to go to Trump to tie with Biden in the the state, assuming Biden gets none of the other votes.

However, for Trump to win, he needs B% of the L vote, and he needs the remainder of those voters to be split evenly between him and Biden so they cancel out. "Split" is the minimum Trump needs, assuming Biden gets the rest (Split = %B+ 0.5 * (100 - %B)). If Trump were to win "Split"% or higher of the Libertarian vote, then he would win in that state.

Values are left out where the L vote was smaller than the margin.

State EV Margin L votes %B Split
AZ 11 11,000 51,000 22% 61%
GA 16 14,000 62,000 23% 62%
NV 6 37,000 14,000
MI 16 148,000 60,000
NE-2 1 22,000 6,000(2)
PA 20 54,000 78,000 69% 85%
WI 10 21,000 38,000 55% 78%

Arizona and Georgia (27) doesn't give him the win, but Pennsylvania or Wisconsin as well would. Trump would have to take Libertarian voters 80-20 to win, which strains credulity, but isn't out of the question.

However, this USANews article says:

There is disagreement over which of the two main parties takes a bigger hit when a Libertarian is in the race. Boaz pointed to a 2016 CBS exit poll that showed that 25% of Libertarians who voted that year would have supported Democrat Hillary Clinton if there had been no Libertarian candidate. For Trump that figure was 15%, while 55% said they would have not voted.

If we surmise that 50% of L votes wouldn't have voted if there was no Libertarian candidate on the ballot, Trump can no longer win Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. He can only win Arizona and Georgia if he takes about 73% of the voting Ls (37% of the original number). This is more plausible, IMO, but he would not win flipping only Georgia and Arizona (27).

State EV Margin 0.5 L votes %B Split
AZ 11 11,000 25,500 43% 72%
GA 16 14,000 31,000 45% 73%
PA 20 54,000 39,000
WI 10 21,000 19,000

Conclusion It is mathematically possible for Trump to have won if there was no L candidate. However, if Biden wins any sort of a significant fraction of the former L voters - or they don't turn out, as is common for them - it makes it virtually impossible for Trump to win. If turnout patterns reflected 2016, it is impossible for Trump to win based on the L vote.

1: Data from NYT, except for NE-2 which came from Cook Political.

2: Votes listed as "other," not for Jorgensen specifically, but it doesn't matter either way.

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    This is a well-researched answer, but (and this is more a critique of the question) the hypothesizing doesn't stop there. If the Libertarian party didn't stand a candidate, not only could their voters pivot to Trump / Biden / not voting, it's also likely that other third parties would be encouraged to ramp up fundraising and fill the void Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 13:46
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    @waltz True, which makes this hypothetical the friendliest situation for Trump and even then it's pretty unlikely. Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 13:55
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    @Bobson Thanks, there was a lot of back and forth last night that got moved to chat. I tweaked your wording, but otherwise looks good. Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 18:52
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    Extrapolating 2016 voting patterns to 2020 seems like a stretch, but I guess it's the best we can do.
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 13, 2020 at 18:55
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    @Barmar I mean nothing he's done has been a surprise ... I would disagree with that assessment. This is pretty much exactly what anyone who was paying attention would have expected. Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 22:01

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