Five million Americans voted for third parties, and people are mad

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How did Donald Trump win the U.S. Presidential Election?
WATCH: Hillary Clinton has conceded the U.S. Election, after Donald Trump's stunning victory Tuesday. Jackson Proskow reports on how Trump surprised everyone, and the incredible power he'll wield in Washington – Nov 9, 2016

More than five million Americans voted neither for Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump, but for a third-party candidate.

And boy, are the candidates and their voters getting flack for their choice.

Is that blame misdirected? Yes, says Donald Abelson, the chair of the political science department at Western University.

“There’s going to be a lot of blame going around,” he said the morning after Trump pulled off an unexpected win. “But it’s their right to run, and a voter’s right to choose.”

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Polls leading up to election day suggested the election was going to Clinton, that Trump had a very thin path to the White House. He walked it perfectly, snapping up the key states including Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

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In some cases, the margin between the Democratic and Republican nominees was so thin, the difference was more than made up in the ballots cast for third-party candidates, according to result from The Associated Press.

In Florida:Trump received 122,955 more votes than Clinton. Combined, third-party candidates garnered almost 250,000.

In Pennsylvania: 68,012 votes separated Trump and Clinton; more than 212,500 voters cast a ballot for a third-party candidate.

READ MORE: Donald Trump wins in Florida after close race

An important note to bear in mind is there is no telling how those who supported a third party in yesterday’s vote would have voted without that choice, says Peter Loewen, director of the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto.

“We don’t know how those votes would have spread,” he said Wednesday. “We would have to know that ratio in order to know whether those votes would have changed the outcome.”

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That said, Loewen suggested that those who cast ballots for Johnson or Stein instead should have voted for whoever they preferred between Clinton and Trump, even if they didn’t really like either.

“There’s nothing wrong with choosing between two less favourable candidates,” he said. “Electing a president is serious stuff.”

All told, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein pulled in 4.2 per cent of the popular vote (as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday). Neither, however, won an electoral college vote.

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“You have to put this in perspective,” Abelson said. “Is the issue about third parties? Or is it about a two-party system or the electoral college?”

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As Abelson pointed out, third parties have run in elections throughout the United States’ history.

In recent history, well-known third-party candidates who spring to mind include Ralph Nader, Ross Perot and George Wallace.

In 2000, Nader took 97,488 votes in Florida, where Democratic nominee Al Gore had a mere 537 fewer votes than George W. Bush. He won zero electoral college votes.

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When Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, Ross Perot earned 19 per cent of the popular vote and no electoral college votes. Meanwhile, in 1968, when Richard Nixon was elected, George Wallace earned 13.5 per cent of the popular vote and 45 electoral college votes.

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“Yes, third parties hive off votes, but is it that or the system?” Abelson asked.

Either way, you can be sure there will be a lot of reflection from all sides in the wake of Tuesday’s election night, he said.

“If you have an electorate willing to either support or ignore the racism, sexism and misogyny that speaks to the mood of the country. Clearly, the Clinton campaign underestimated that,” Abelson said.

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