Nader came to prominence in 1965, with the publication of his book Unsafe at Any Speed, a critique of the safety record of American automobile manufacturers in general, and particularly the first-generation Chevrolet Corvair. In 1999, a New York University panel of journalists ranked Unsafe at Any Speed 38th among the top 100 pieces of journalism of the 20th century.
Nader began to write about consumer safety issues in articles published in the Harvard Law Record, a student publication of Harvard Law School. He first criticized the automobile industry in 1959 in an article, "The Safe Car You Can't Buy", published by The Nation.
Ralph Nader lectures at Florida State University, 1980s
In 1965, Nader wrote the book Unsafe at Any Speed, in which he claimed that many American automobiles were unsafe to operate. The first chapter, "The Sporty Corvair - The One-Car Accident", pertained to the Corvair manufactured by the Chevrolet division of General Motors (GM), which had been involved in accidents involving spins and rollovers. More than 100 lawsuits were pending against GM related to accidents involving the popular compact car. Nader based his initial investigations into car safety on these lawsuits.
In early March 1966, several media outlets, including The New Republic and The New York Times, reported that GM had tried to discredit Nader, hiring private detectives to tap his phones and investigate his past, and hiring prostitutes to trap him in compromising situations. Nader sued the company for invasion of privacy and settled the case for $425,000. Nader's lawsuit against GM was ultimately decided by the New York Court of Appeals, whose opinion in the case expanded tort law to cover "overzealous surveillance". Nader used the proceeds from the lawsuit to start the pro-consumer Center for Study of Responsive Law.
Nader's advocacy of automobile safety and the publicity generated by the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, along with concern over escalating nationwide traffic fatalities, contributed to Congress' unanimous passage of the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. The act established the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, marking a historic shift in responsibility for automobile safety from the consumer to the government. The legislation mandated a series of safety features for automobiles, beginning with safety belts and stronger windshields.
Several years later, in 1972 Texas A&M University conducted a safety commission report on the Corvair for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; it found that the 1960–1963 Corvairs possessed no greater potential for loss of control than its contemporaries in extreme situations. According to Crash Course by Paul Ingrassia, Corvairs were environmentally friendly due to their smaller size and lighter weight. In contrast, the former GM executive John DeLorean asserted in On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors (1979) that Nader's criticisms were valid.
Hundreds of young activists, inspired by Nader's work, came to DC to help him with other projects. They came to be known as "Nader's Raiders" and, under Nader, investigated government corruption, publishing dozens of books with their results:
In the 1970s and 1980s, Nader was a key leader in the antinuclear power movement. "By 1976, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who later became allied with the environmental movement, 'stood as the titular head of opposition to nuclear energy'." The Critical Mass Energy Project was formed by Nader in 1974 as a national anti-nuclear umbrella group. It was probably the largest national anti-nuclear group in the United States, with several hundred local affiliates and an estimated 200,000 supporters. The organization's main efforts were directed at lobbying activities and providing local groups with scientific and other resources to campaign against nuclear power. Nader advocates the complete elimination of nuclear energy in favor of solar, tidal, wind and geothermal, citing environmental, worker safety, migrant labor, national security, disaster preparedness, foreign policy, government accountability and democratic governance issues to bolster his position.
Throughout the 1970s, Nader publicly questioned the cost effectiveness and environmental impact of water fluoridation as well as criticizing the hostile resistance of the fluoridationists towards scientific debate. In 2011, Nader joined Civil Rights leaders in their concerns over the disproportionate harm caused by water fluoridation on people of color by issuing this statement, "It's way overdue for this country to have an extended and open scientific and regulatory debate on fluoridation. There should be no mandatory fluoridation without the approval of people in a public referendum preceded by full and open public debate with disclosures. There is an old Roman law adage that says, 'What touches all should be decided by all.'"
For his activism, Nader received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen in 1974, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.
His activism also earned him the ire of the business community, exemplified in Lewis Powell's influential memo to the US Chamber of Commerce back in the 1970s: "Perhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business is Ralph Nader, who -- thanks largely to the media -- has become a legend in his own time and an idol of millions of Americans."
Nader spent much of 1970 pursuing a campaign to educate the public about ecology. Nader said that the rivers and lakes in America were extremely contaminated. He joked that "Lake Erie is now so contaminated you're advised to have a typhoid inoculation before you set sail on some parts of the lake."
He also added that river and lake water contamination affected humans because many residents get their water supply from these contaminated rivers and lakes. "Cleveland takes its water supply from deep in the center of Lake Erie. How much longer is it going to get away with that?"
Nader told how some rivers are contaminated so badly that they can be lit on fire. "The Buffalo River is so full of petroleum residuals, it's been classified an official fire hazard by the City of Buffalo. We have the phenomenon now known as flammable water. The Cuyahoga River outside of Cleveland did catch fire last June, burning a base and some bridges. I often wonder what was in the minds of the firemen as they rushed to the scene of the action and pondered how to put this fire out. But we're heading in river after river: Connecticut River, Hudson River, Mississippi River, you name it. There's some rivers right outside of Boston, New Hampshire and Maine where if a person fell into 'em, I think he would dissolve before he drowned."
Throughout his career, Nader has started or inspired a variety of nonprofit organizations, with most of which he has maintained close associations:
Citizen Advocacy Center
Citizens Utility Boards
Congress Accountability Project
Consumer Task Force For Automotive Issues
Corporate Accountability Research Project
Equal Justice Foundation
Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights
Georgia Legal Watch
National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform
National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest
In 2002, Nader founded the D.C. Library Renaissance Project, which has sought to halt the development of various libraries in Washington, DC. The legal obstacles constructed by the Library Renaissance Project have cost the DC government over one million dollars in legal fees. Nader has opposed the development of local libraries despite community support and his opposition has imperiled other projects.
In 2013, Nader was active on an array of issues, including postponing the retirement of New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, opening a tort law museum in Connecticut, and protesting the all-you-can-eat food deals at certain baseball stadiums. In August 2013, he urged Stephen Harper not to allow Verizon to enter Canada's telecom market and complained to Washington, D.C. city officials about poorly positioned “No Left Turn” signs.
Ralph Nader was a frequent contender in U.S. presidential elections in the period 1996 to 2008, always as an independent or third-party candidate. (His activism on behalf of third parties goes back to 1958, when he wrote an article for the Harvard Law Record critiquing U.S. electoral law's systemic discrimination against them.)
Nader was a write-in candidate in 1992. He was nominated for president four times:
Ralph Nader's name appeared in the press as a potential candidate for president for the first time in 1971, when he was offered the opportunity to run as the presidential candidate for the New Party, a progressive split-off from the Democratic Party in 1972. Chief among his advocates was author Gore Vidal, who touted a 1972 Nader presidential campaign in a front-page article in Esquire magazine in 1971. Psychologist Alan Rockway organized a "draft Ralph Nader for President" campaign in Florida on the New Party's behalf. Nader declined their offer to run that year; the New Party ultimately joined with the People's Party in running Benjamin Spock in the 1972 presidential election. Spock had hoped Nader in particular would run, getting "some of the loudest applause of the evening" when mentioning him at the University of Alabama. Spock went on to try to recruit Nader for the party among over 100 others, and indicated he would be "delighted" to be replaced by any of them even after he accepted the nomination himself. Nader received one vote for the vice-presidential nomination at the 1972 Democratic National Convention.
Nader stood in as a write-in for "none of the above" in both the 1992 New Hampshire Democratic and Republican Primaries and received 3,054 of the 170,333 Democratic votes and 3,258 of the 177,970 Republican votes cast. He was also a candidate in the 1992 Massachusetts Democratic Primary, where he appeared at the top of the ballot (in some areas, he appeared on the ballot as an independent).
Nader was drafted as a candidate for President of the United States on the Green Party ticket during the 1996 presidential election. He was not formally nominated by the Green Party USA, which was, at the time, the largest national Green group; instead he was nominated independently by various state Green parties (in some states, he appeared on the ballot as an independent). However, many activists in the Green Party USA worked actively to campaign for Nader that year. Nader qualified for ballot status in 22 states, garnering 685,297 votes or 0.71% of the popular vote (fourth place overall), although the effort did make significant organizational gains for the party. He refused to raise or spend more than $5,000 on his campaign, presumably to avoid meeting the threshold for Federal Elections Commission reporting requirements; the unofficial Draft Nader committee could (and did) spend more than that, but the committee was legally prevented from coordinating in any way with Nader himself.
Nader received some criticism from gay rights supporters for calling gay rights "gonad politics" and stating that he was not interested in dealing with such matters. However, more recently, Nader has come out in support of same-sex marriage.
His 1996 running mates included: Anne Goeke (nine states), Deborah Howes (Oregon), Muriel Tillinghast (New York), Krista Paradise (Colorado), Madelyn Hoffman (New Jersey), Bill Boteler (Washington, D.C.), and Winona LaDuke (California and Texas).
In the 2006 documentary An Unreasonable Man, Nader describes how he was unable to get the views of his public interest groups heard in Washington, even by the Clinton Administration. Nader cites this as one of the primary reasons that he decided to actively run in the 2000 election as candidate of the Green Party, which had been formed in the wake of his 1996 campaign.
Nader's supporters, with Christopher Hitchens speaking, protest his exclusion from the televised debates in 2000
In June 2000, The Association of State Green Parties (ASGP) organized the national nominating convention that took place in Denver, Colorado, at which Green party delegates nominated Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke to be their party's candidates for president and vice president.
In 2000, Nader and his running mate Winona LaDuke received 2,883,105 votes, for 2.74 percent of the popular vote (third place overall), missing the 5 percent needed to qualify the Green Party for federally distributed public funding in the next election, yet qualifying the Greens for ballot status in many states. A common claim is that Nader's candidacy acted as a spoiler in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, in which 537 votes gave George W. Busha crucial and controversial victory in Florida (Nader received almost 100,000 votes in Florida, from which a slight decrease in favour of Gore would have altered the outcome). Others, including Nader, dispute this claim.
The spoiler controversy
In the 2000 presidential election in Florida, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by 537 votes. Nader received 97,421 votes, which led to claims that he was responsible for Gore's defeat. Nader, both in his book Crashing the Party and on his website, states: "In the year 2000, exit polls reported that 25% of my voters would have voted for Bush, 38% would have voted for Gore and the rest would not have voted at all."Michael Moore at first argued that Florida was so close that votes for any of seven other candidates could also have switched the results, but in 2004 joined the view that Nader had helped make Bush president. When asked about claims of being a spoiler, Nader typically points to the controversial Supreme Court ruling that halted a Florida recount, Gore's loss in his home state of Tennessee, and the "quarter million Democrats who voted for Bush in Florida."
A study in 2002 by the Progressive Review, found no correlation in pre-election polling numbers for Nader when compared to those for Gore. In other words, most of the changes in pre-election polling reflect movement between Bush and Gore rather than Gore and Nader, and they conclude from this that Nader was not responsible for Gore's loss.
An analysis conducted by Harvard Professor B.C. Burden in 2005 showed Nader did "play a pivotal role in determining who would become president following the 2000 election", but that:
Contrary to Democrats’ complaints, Nader was not intentionally trying to throw the election. A spoiler strategy would have caused him to focus disproportionately on the most competitive states and markets with the hopes of being a key player in the outcome. There is no evidence that his appearances responded to closeness. He did, apparently, pursue voter support, however, in a quest to receive 5% of the popular vote.
However, Jonathan Chait of The American Prospect and The New Republic notes that Nader did indeed focus on swing states disproportionately during the waning days of the campaign, and by doing so jeopardized his own chances of achieving the 5% of the vote he was aiming for.
Then there was the debate within the Nader campaign over where to travel in the waning days of the campaign. Some Nader advisers urged him to spend his time in uncontested states such as New York and California. These states – where liberals and leftists could entertain the thought of voting Nader without fear of aiding Bush – offered the richest harvest of potential votes. But, Martin writes, Nader – who emerges from this account as the house radical of his own campaign – insisted on spending the final days of the campaign on a whirlwind tour of battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida. In other words, he chose to go where the votes were scarcest, jeopardizing his own chances of winning 5 percent of the vote, which he needed to gain federal funds in 2004.
When Nader, in a letter to environmentalists, attacked Gore for "his role as broker of environmental voters for corporate cash," and "the prototype for the bankable, Green corporate politician," and what he called a string of broken promises to the environmental movement, Sierra Club president Carl Pope sent an open letter to Nader, dated 27 October 2000, defending Al Gore's environmental record and calling Nader's strategy "irresponsible." He wrote:
You have also broken your word to your followers who signed the petitions that got you on the ballot in many states. You pledged you would not campaign as a spoiler and would avoid the swing states. Your recent campaign rhetoric and campaign schedule make it clear that you have broken this pledge... Please accept that I, and the overwhelming majority of the environmental movement in this country, genuinely believe that your strategy is flawed, dangerous and reckless.
Nader announced on December 24, 2003, that he would not seek the Green Party's nomination for president in 2004, but did not rule out running as an independent candidate.
Meeting with John Kerry
Ralph Nader and Democratic candidate John Kerry held a widely publicized meeting early in the 2004 presidential campaign, which Nader described in An Unreasonable Man. Nader said that John Kerry wanted to work to win Nader's support and the support of Nader's voters. Nader then provided more than 20 pages of issues that he felt were important and he "put them on the table" for John Kerry. According to Nader the issues covered topics ranging from environmental, labor, healthcare, tax reform, corporate crime, campaign finance reform and various consumer protection issues. Nader reported that he asked John Kerry to choose any three of the issues and highlight them in his campaign and if Kerry would do this, he would refrain from the race. For example, Nader recommended taking up corporate welfare, corporate crime—which could attract many Republican voters, and labor law reform—which was felt Bush could never support given the corporate funding of his campaign. Several days passed and Kerry failed to adopt any of Nader's issues as benchmarks of his campaign, so on February 22, 2004, Nader announced on NBC that he would indeed run for president as an independent, saying, "There's too much power and wealth in too few hands."
A Kerry aide who had attended the meeting had a different recollection. "He made more the point that he had the ability to go after Bush in ways that we could not, He did not at all say to Kerry, 'I'm here to make you better on things.' That was not his tone at all."
The New York Times quoted Nader saying after the meeting "Gore was petrified wood, He was stiff as a board, he didn't want to have these kinds of meetings. He didn't want to have meetings like this when he was vice president three years before the election. Kerry is much more open." Nader himself said he had deliberately steered clear of disagreement, telling the Times, "When you go in looking for common ground, it takes up most of the time, doesn't it?"
Nader's 2004 campaign, ran on a platform consistent with the Green Party's positions on major issues, such as opposition to the war in Iraq. He has detailed the legal reasons George W. Bush and Dick Cheney fit the criteria for war criminals, and why they should have been immediately impeached.
Due to concerns about a possible spoiler effect as in 2000, many Democrats urged Nader to abandon his 2004 candidacy. The Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, stated that Nader had a "distinguished career, fighting for working families," and that McAuliffe "would hate to see part of his legacy being that he got us eight years of George Bush." Nader replied to this, in filmed interviews for An Unreasonable Man, by arguing that, "Voting for a candidate of one's choice is a Constitutional right, and the Democrats who are asking me not to run are, without question, seeking to deny the Constitutional rights of voters who are, by law, otherwise free to choose to vote for me." Nader's 2004 campaign theme song was "If You Gotta Ask" by Liquid Blue.
In May 2009, in a new book, Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny, Theresa Amato, who was Nader's national campaign manager in 2000 and 2004, alleged that McAuliffe offered to pay off Nader to stop campaigning in certain states in 2004. This was confirmed by Nader, and neither McAuliffe nor his spokeswoman disputed the claim.
In the 2004 campaign, Democrats such as Howard Dean and Terry McAuliffe asked that Nader return money donated to his campaign by Republicans who were well-known Bush supporters, such as billionaire Richard Egan. Nader's reaction to the request was to refuse to return any donations and he charged that the Democrats were attempting to smear him. Nader's vice-presidential running mate, Peter Camejo, supported the return of the money if it could be proved that "the aim of the wealthy GOP donors was to peel votes from Kerry." According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Nader defended his keeping of the donations by saying that wealthy contributors "are human beings too."
Nader received 463,655 votes, for 0.38 percent of the popular vote, placing him in third place overall.
In February 2007, Nader criticized Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton as "a panderer and a flatterer." Asked on CNN Late Edition news program if he would run in 2008, Nader replied, "It's really too early to say...." Asked during a radio appearance to describe the former First Lady, Nader said, "Flatters, panders, coasting, front-runner, looking for a coronation ... She has no political fortitude." Some Greens started a campaign to draft Nader as their party's 2008 presidential candidate.
After some consideration, Nader announced on February 24, 2008, that he would run for president as an independent. His vice-presidential candidate was Matt Gonzalez.
Nader received 738,475 votes, for 0.56 percent of the popular vote, earning him a third-place position in the overall election results.
Involvement in 2012 presidential race
In December, 2010, Ralph Nader said in an interview that while he had not ruled out the possibility of running for president in 2012, he was encouraging people to identify and help another progressive willing to challenge President Barack Obama in the Democratic Party primaries. As the 2012 presidential race evolved, Nader continued to express hope that "outside Democrats" would assert themselves to influence it. Meanwhile, he continued his customary writing and lecturing on a prodigious range of political and timely topics. In August 2012, Nader suggested to vote for Jill Stein or Rocky Anderson.
2016 presidential race
Nader has encouraged "modestly enlightened rich people" to run in 2016, arguing "only very rich modestly enlightened people could have a chance to break this introverting cycle of political oligarchy, which unenlightened rich people generally approve of, that sets its own rules, makes its own laws, appoints its own judges and even brazenly forces taxpayers to finance its quadrennial political conventions."  The candidates he has suggested include Bill Gates, Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey.
Nader was raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He has never married. Karen Croft, a writer who worked for Nader in the late 1970s at the Center for Study of Responsive Law, once asked him if he had ever considered getting married. She reports: "He said that at a certain point he had to decide whether to have a family or to have a career, that he couldn't have both. That's the kind of person he is. He couldn't have a wife—he's up all night reading the Congressional Record."
While Nader believes that technology has no "moral imperative," he personally eschews using computers in favor of writing with his trusted typewriter.
Nader has lived in Washington, DC for nearly 50 years and has a residence near Dupont Circle. He is domiciled in Connecticut, where he votes.
According to the mandatory fiscal disclosure report that he filed with the Federal Election Commission in 2000, Nader owned more than $3 million worth of stocks and mutual fund shares; his single largest holding was more than $1 million worth of stock in Cisco Systems, Inc. He also held between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of shares in the Magellan Fund. Nader said he owned no car and owned no real estate directly in 2000, and said that he lived on $25,000 a year, giving most of his stock earnings to many of the over four dozen non-profit organizations he had founded.
In 1988, Nader appeared on Sesame Street as "a person in your neighborhood." The verse of the song began "A consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood." Nader's appearance on the show was memorable because it was the only time that the grammar of the last line of the song – "A person who you meet each day" – was questioned and changed in the show. Nader refused to sing a line which he deemed grammatically improper, so a compromise was reached such that Nader sang the last line solo, with the modified words: "A person whom you meet each day." In the same episode, Nader tests "Bob"'s sweater, with permission, and destroys it, telling Bob "Your aunt . . . knitted you a lemon!"
References to Nader in popular culture include the song "Fast Cars" on the Buzzcocks' 1978 album Another Music in a Different Kitchen. A line in the lyrics states, "Sooner or later, you're gonna listen to Ralph Nader", referring to his efforts to raise awareness of lackluster vehicular safety standards.
Ralph Nader is mentioned in season 2, episode 23, "Semi-Friendly Persuasion" of the TV series, The A-Team. Templeton Peck ("Face") impersonates a government agent from the Bureau of Weights and Measures who is investigating a crooked hardware store owner because of complaints he is selling substandard building supplies and engaging in price gouging. During his conversation with the store owner, "Face" begins, "We love guys like you. Ralph eats them for breakfast." "Ralph?" "Nader! You're his kinda guy! Crooked, and proud of it! Yeah, old Ralph, he'd, uh, chew you up, and, uh, blow a bubble with ya."
Ralph Nader: Up Close This film blends archival footage and scenes of Nader and his staff at work in Washington with interviews with Nader's family, friends and adversaries, as well as Nader himself. Written, directed and produced by Mark Litwak and Tiiu Lukk, 1990, color, 72 mins. Narration by Studs Terkel. Broadcast on PBS. Winner, Sinking Creek Film Festival; Best of Festival, Baltimore Int'l Film Festival; Silver Plaque, Chicago Int'l Film Festival, Silver Apple, National Educational Film & Video Festival.
Bear, Greg, "Eon" – the novel includes a depiction of a future group called the "Naderites" who follow Ralph Nader's humanistic teachings.
^Nuclear Power in an Age of Uncertainty (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, OTA-E-216, February 1984), p. 228, citing the following article:
^Public Opposition to Nuclear Energy: Retrospect and Prospect, Roger E. Kasperson, Gerald Berk, David Pijawka, Alan B. Sharaf, James Wood, Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 5, No. 31 (Spring, 1980), pp. 11–23
^ abWolfgang Rudig (1990). Anti-nuclear Movements: A World Survey of Opposition to Nuclear Energy, Longman, p. 402.