Clinton Lost Because of Turnout
It’s going to be fashionable for Democrats to blame third parties for Clinton’s loss for a little while. But that’s only a part of the problem. Clinton lost because she wasn’t as good of a candidate as many Democrats wanted to believe that she was.
First, some points about her not being a very good candidate: she had a very hard time putting away Bernie Sanders (someone that many voters had probably never heard of before this year) this year despite what was otherwise a “cleared field”; likewise, in 2008, she lost to a relatively unknown Senator from Illinois.
With respect to this particular race, she got 4.6 million fewer votes this year than Obama got four years ago (yes, the numbers are not yet finalized, but that’s a significant drop off). And it was worse in the four states she lost that Obama won, in Wisconsin she got 237k fewer votes (1.621m vs 1.384m), in Pennsylvania she got 173k fewer votes than Obama (2.99m vs 2.817m), in Ohio she got a full half million fewer votes than Obama (2.827m vs 2.32m), and in Michigan she underperformed Obama by 300k votes (2.564m vs 2.264m). (If you’re wondering I’m using the numbers on wikipedia) Those are not signs of a good candidate or good campaign.
As for whether third party candidates cost Clinton the presidency, some numbers for you to consider - there were ten states where third party candidates accounted for more votes than the difference between Clinton and Trump (11 if you count Utah, but there’s little chance that McMullen voters were going to break 9:1 for Clinton to make up the difference). Here’s how it worked out:
Michigan obviously jumps out as a problem state for Clinton. Stein managed to get 51k votes when the difference in the state was only 13k. And it would be easy to blame Stein for the loss, but keep in mind, if she wouldn’t have lost 300,000 votes from Obama’s performance in 2012, Michigan would have been a blow out for Clinton.
The same goes for Wisconsin, Stein received nearly 31k votes and the difference was 27,506. But again, Clinton lost 237k Obama voters in Wisconsin from four years ago.
And in both of those states, there’s a rather easy argument to make the other way, that Johnson voters likely cost Trump some of his margin. It’s entirely reasonable to assume that many Johnson voters would have gone to a generic Republican instead of Trump. Moreover, winning Michigan and Wisconsin would not have been enough to get Clinton to 270 votes in the electoral college.
Beyond that, take a look at those states at the bottom of the table, those are states Clinton won, that Trump could argue the presence of Johnson and McMullen cost him the win in those states.