09/27/2012 06:29 pm ET Updated Nov 27, 2012

Is a Vote for Ron Paul a Vote for Obama, or the Product of a Disenfranchised Right?

Take a look at an interesting excerpt from Monday's edition of The Hill:

Ryan was asked why voters should not vote for Ron Paul. The Republican vice presidential candidate responded that a vote for Paul, who ran for the 2012 GOP nomination, would effectively split the vote in a way that helps Obama.

"Do you want Barack Obama to be reelected? Then don't vote for Ron Paul," Ryan said during a campaign speech in Lima, Ohio, on Monday.

Is this true?

Well, third-party candidates didn't swing the previous two elections. The winners in 2004 and in 2008 still would have won by 0.99% and 5.88%, respectively, even if their opponents had collected the sum of all third-party candidates' popular votes.

Ryan is correct, though, that third-party presidential candidates have played decisive roles in the past, not for their own campaigns but for the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats.

The election is tricky in 2000 because the candidate who won the popular vote ended up losing the race overall. Nonetheless, Al Gore beat George W. Bush by 0.51% of the popular vote. Third-party candidates received 3.72% -- higher than the difference between 1st and 2nd place.

In 1996, Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole by 8.53% of the popular vote. Third-party candidates received 10.02%.

In 1992, Bill Clinton beat George H. W. Bush by 5.56% of the popular vote. Third-party candidates received an outstanding 19.51%.

Ironically, 1988 is the last time Ron Paul officially ran on a presidential ticket, and the election is notable for being one of those exceptions in which the third-party candidates could not have mathematically made a difference. George H. W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis by 7.72% of the popular vote. Ron Paul received 0.47%, meaning he would have needed to multiply this voter base by a factor of 16 before he even caught up to the difference between 1st and 2nd place.

Ryan's worries about a drastic swing election, suffice it to say, are unwarranted beyond belief.

In the end, though, we have meaningful questions to ask: are third-party voters betraying the Republican Party, or are these voters a product of the Republican Party betraying the ideals of small government? And, even if Ron Paul were to swing the election, is it possible that conservatives and libertarians are so disenfranchised that their symbolic votes of displeasure have become more important than winning a race to the White House?

Yes, it is.