The Gore camp's claim that a vote for Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader is, in effect, a vote for George W Bush will be familiar to third parties everywhere. How often has the British electorate been told by both big parties that supporting the Liberal Democrats (or the Greens, or anybody else for that matter) is a waste of a vote? Fortunately such pernicious duopoly has not quite annihilated multi-party democracy in Britain, though not for want of trying by Labour and the Tories. The "wasted vote" argument is harder to sustain in countries (that is to say, most modern democracies) that use proportional representation to reflect all shades of opinion. But in first-past-the-post contests such as that in the US, where all a state's electoral college votes normally go to the candidate with a plurality, the impact of such spoiling tactics on inclusive representative politics is potentially very damaging.
Inclusion should be an issue of concern for both Democrats and Republicans. Whichever way the contest goes on November 7, the "winner" will be the dark horse known as apathy. On past experience, 50% or more of eligible voters will not cast a ballot at all. The successful candidate can thus hope to have the active support of, at most, one in four Americans. This dismal prospect is not solely the product of the close but uninspiring Bush-Gore contest. Participation in presidential elections has been falling steadily since the 1960s. Indeed, it sometimes seems that relatively weak, voyeuristic Britain (or Britain's media) is more excited by White House power-politics than are Americans themselves.
It cannot be assumed that the 5% or so of voters who may support Mr Nader (and who could in theory thwart Mr Gore in some marginal states) would vote at all were he not in the race. By offering a radically different, iconoclastic vision, Mr Nader effectively enfranchises many alienated voters - and does sterling service to a democracy in decline.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000