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Bob Barr Not Going Viral

The New York Times ran a feature today on Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr being a spoiler. But there is little evidence so far that Barr is gaining much traction in this election.

Consider, for instance, the rather modest fundraising goal established on Barr’s webpage. He seeks to raise $88,000 by July 4, of which $27,000 has been raised so far. Candidates generally do not set fundraising goals that they do not expect to meet, so let’s say that Barr succeeds and raises another $61,000 over the course of the next week to beat his goal. In fact, let’s say that Barr beats that goal by 50 percent and raises $90,000.

A candidate who is raising $90,000 per week will raise approximately $1.7 million dollars between now and Election Day in November. How would this compare to the amount of funds raised by other recent third-party candidates? The amounts below reflect the total amount of individual contributions to third-party candidates in 2000 and 2004, ignoring PAC money, self-loans, etc.:

Nader Independent $2.5 million
Badnarik Libertarian $1.0 million
Cobb Green $0.5 million
Peroutka Constitution $0.3 million

Buchanan Reform $15.3 million
Nader Green $10.8 million
Brown Libertarian $2.1 million

There was a huge reduction in the amount of funds available to third-party candidates between 2000 and 2004, perhaps because Ralph Nader’s impact on the 2000 election led voters to realize that third party candidacies weren’t such a cute little idea. But a fundraising haul of $1.7 million would be relatively modest, even by the standards of your typical third-party candidate. Of course, this is just the roughest guesstimate of what sort of money Barr is bringing in, and fundraising may be a relatively small part of the story for a third-party candidate — Pat Buchanan got more than $15 million from individual contributors in 2000, and had all of 0.43 percent of the vote to show for it. But so far, the Ron Paul money has not been flowing in.

In fact, Ron Paul’s website is still getting two or three times as much traffic as Barr’s, and appeared to be getting something like 30-40 times as much traffic at its peak in January versus what Barr’s is getting now.

It’s still early in this election, but perhaps less so for a third-party candidate than for a major party one. There’s really very little going on right now on the campaign trail, making it a good time for a third-party candidate to get some free media impressions from a bored press corps. But once the Beijing Olympics begin on August 8th, the country will be distracted for two weeks by those and then we begin the mad dash to the finish, with the conventions and the debates and both sides ramping up their advertising and their opposition research. So Barr has about five or six weeks left to do something newsworthy, or he’s going to find it hard to get media oxygen later on.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.