SPLITTING THE VOTE

Young Nathan Zuckerman is arguing with his father in Philip Roth’s I Married A Communist (1998). Young Nate is going to vote for Henry Wallace, the left-wing Progressive Party candidate in the 1948 presidential election – or rather he would vote for him if he was old enough to vote. His father, a more traditional Democrat, is worried that Wallace might split the vote as, arguably, Ralph Nader did in 2000, to the benefit of the Republicans. (If Nader hadn’t taken 100,000 votes in Florida, Al Gore would have become president ‑ as opposed to just winning the election.)

“Your man is only going to deny the Democrats the White House,” my father told me. “And if we get the Republicans, that will mean the suffering in this country that it has always meant. You weren’t around for Hoover and Harding and Coolidge. You don’t know firsthand about the heartlessness of the Republican Party. You despise big business, Nathan? You despise what you and Henry Wallace call ‘the big boys from Wall Street’? Well you don’t know what it is when the party of big business has its foot in the face of ordinary people. I do. I know poverty and I know hardship in ways you and your brother have been spared, thank God.” (...)
Every night over dinner in the kitchen, I did everything I could to persuade my father to vote for Henry Wallace and the restoration of the New Deal, and every night he tried to get me to understand the necessity for compromise ... [but] at the mere sound of the first syllable of the word “compromise,” I jumped up from my chair and told him and my mother and my ten-year-old brother (who, whenever I got going, liked to repeat to me, in an exaggeratedly exasperated voice, “A vote for Wallace is a vote for Dewey”) that I could never again eat at that table if my father was present.

Wallace won 2.4 per cent of the vote, coming in fourth behind southern racist Strom Thurmond. Harry Truman was re-elected president.