The Big Question: Who is Ralph Nader, and can he make any impact on the US election?

Why are we asking this now?

Ralph Nader, a populist champion of the little guy, has just announced his sudden entry in to the dramatic campaign for the White House as an independent candidate. Nader's decision to throw his hat in to the ring to stand for president for the third consecutive election has Democrats spitting blood and Republicans cheering. Democrats fear that if there is a tight race we could see a repeat of his 2000 performance when, as the Green Party nominee, he denied the party crucial votes. He is taken seriously because of his record as a giant-slayer. Around the world people would still be driving death-traps without seat belts or airbags if Nader had not campaigned and written his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, in 1965.

He sounds good, so why are the Democrats upset?

Maybe they are not as democratic as they think. Somewhat unfairly, they blame Nader for their defeat in the 2000 election. George Bush won the election by defeating Al Gore in Florida by a mere 537 votes. Nader, then standing as a Green party candidate, got 97,000 votes, and Democrats are convinced that he denied Gore a victory and gave the world eight years of George Bush along with war in Iraq, global warming and Guantanamo Bay. In their reading of events, the defeat had nothing to do with the wooden campaigning style of the man the Bushes called "Ozone Man" and everything to do with Ralph Nader.

But did he give us Bush?

Opinions differ, but the one person who has actually studied Nader's TV ads and personal appearances in that race is Barry Burden, a professor of government at Harvard University. He comes down emphatically on Nader's side saying that he spent most of his effort campaigning in Democratic strongholds rather than setting out to rain on Al Gore's parade in swing states like Florida. In a tight race he could always make the difference and be blamed for letting the Republicans back in. But with two star candidates in Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both attracting unprecedented interest from voters, the Democrats are confident that Nader's impact will be minimal. His time has passed, they say, grasping for bits of wood.

Can he even get on the ballot?

In truth he will have a harder task this time than he did in 2000 because he is not the nominee of any one party. But he intends to get there by putting together third-party endorsements in different states from groups like the Reform Party and the Green Party. "The system is triple-rigged against any small candidate," he said. "All we can do is try to loosen it up, challenge it." Nader's big cause in recent years is the rigid two-party political system in the US and he wants to give voters something to think about that is outside the Democratic-Republican duet. "One of our priorities is civil liberties and the candidates' right to get on the ballot," he said. He says he is building for the future, trying to offer Americans a progressive – read left-wing – agenda and to get more people to run for local, state and national office.

Isn't he a natural Democrat?

You might think so, but the Democratic high command fell out with Nader long before 2000 debacle. When Ronald Reagan cleaned the Democrats' clocks in 1981 the party decided that they only way back to the White House was to turn away from Nader's (and Robert Kennedy's) dream of a new politics of empowerment and get into bed with Political Action Committees of the big corporations. The dismal result was a 27-year stretch in which there has been little to distinguish between the Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Why is Nader doing it now?

"You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut out, marginalised and disrespected," Nader says, "In that context, I have decided to run for president." Essentially he believes that with John Edwards out of the race there is no one around to shout for the little guy. At 74 tomorrow, Nader may be the only one left in US politics who gives the "straight vanilla". He considers Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to be spineless politicians. He blasts Obama for his "belligerent talk toward Iran" and "his pandering on the Israeli-Palestinian issue".

As a senator, Nader says Obama "just didn't distinguish himself and that's not a very good sign. Because that's the real Obama, as opposed to the campaign trail Obama. The real Obama is one who's very cautious when it comes to challenging corporate power." He dismissed Clinton, as "a panderer and a flatterer" whose campaign has been ruined by the interference of too many political consultants.

Could he be as big as Obama?

He seems to believe so, although most Democratic insiders dismiss him as a dangerous nuisance. "Nobody is on a bigger ego trip than Ralph Nader," said James Carville, the Democratic Consultant and adviser to Hillary Clinton. Former President Jimmy Carter has urged Nader to "go back to examining the rear end of automobiles". Clinton herself believes that his 2000 run cost the world "the greenest (US) president" it could have had with Al Gore in 2000.

What is Nader's message?

Nader's website ( tells it all. With a bolt of lightening over a darkening sky and a banner about corporate greed, it asks: "Which side are you on?" Nader's list of enemies goes all the way from the goliaths of US capitalism to what he calls "corporate Democrats". The answer in white is, "People fighting back — Nader."

How are the other candidates reacting?

Obama responds to the development by dismissing Nader as an irrelevant crank, while sugar- coating his remarks with fulsome praise for his role as a consumer champion. He described him as somebody who, if "you don't listen and adopt all of his policies, thinks you're not substantive. He seems to have a pretty high opinion of his own work. Now, and by the way, I have to say that historically, he is a singular figure in American politics and has done as much as just about anybody on behalf of consumers ... But there's a sense now that, um, you know if somebody's not hewn to the Ralph Nader agenda then you, you must be lacking in some way."

Almost on the ropes herself, Clinton seemed a bit more worried, expressing the hope that Nader "doesn't hurt anyone" this year. "Obviously, it's not helpful to whoever our Democratic nominee is," she said.

Could Nader really be a factor in 2008?


* He could help elect John McCain if his left-wing agenda scares enough wavering Republican or independent voters off Obama

* Nader has extraordinary media savvy: witness 40 years of laudatory coverage of his consumer causes in the face of smear tactics

* If enough US voters see that photo of Obama wearing a turban in Somalia (and they will), Nader may suddenly start to appeal


* Obama and Clinton have so energised the Democratic base that another candidate won't make any difference at this point

* This is perhaps the worst time for an Arab-American (Nader's parents are Lebanese) to announce he is running for President

* Nader's progressive agenda scares conservative US voters to death. He knows he cannot win, but is playing a longer game

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there