Assume the Position

Thursday, October 28, 2004
Election 2000 and 2004

Four years ago, today, I wrote the following in a NewsTrolls thread.

Election 2000 - Belgrade, USA?
Posted by LynxxPherrett (LynxxPherrett) on October 28, 2000

This election is more likely to be one where the popular vote and electoral votes produce different results than any in a long time. IOW, one presidential candidate may "win" the popular vote on Nov 7 and the other candidate may "win" the electoral vote and the election. The loser in the popular vote would become President in January.

Two primary reasons for this.

  1. This election is apparently going to be close.

    Consider what can happen with the variations in voter turnout between states and differences in "close." Ignore third party influence and just talk candidate X and candidate Y. Use Arkansas (pop. about 2.5 million, 6 electoral votes), Kansas (pop. around 2.6 million, 6 electoral votes), and Rhode Island (pop. about .9 million and 4 electoral votes -- 1999 estimates.) Consider 100% of the population as eligible to vote and standard voter turnout to be 20% of those eligible. (The "real" percentages don't matter because they would apply equally to the states, so the relationship between actual votes would remain the same if only 50% of the population were eligible to vote and there was 80% voter turnout.)

    So, Arkansas would normally have 500,000 people go to the poles; Kansas would have 520,000 people vote; and Rhode Island would have a normal turnout of 180,000.

    Now consider various election outcomes in the states.

    • Very close, but consistent. Candidate X gets 50.5% of the vote in each state, candidate Y gets 49.5%. X collects all 16 electoral votes and becomes president, Y gets 0 electoral votes.

    • Very close, but not consistent. Candidate X gets 50.5% in Arkansas (252,500) and Rhode Island (90,900), but only 49.5% in Kansas (257,400) -- 600,800 total. Candidate Y, of course, gets the converse: 49.5% in Arkansas (247,500) and Rhode Island (89,100) and 50.5% in Kansas (262,600) -- 599,200 total. X gets 10 electoral votes, Y gets 6. Again, X wins both electoral and popular votes (by 1,600 votes).

    • But lets change the vote just a little from the previous example. Candidate X gets 50.5% in Arkansas (252,500), 49.0% in Kansas (254,800), and 51.0% in Rhode Island (91,800) -- 599,100 total. Candidate Y, of course, gets the converse: 49.5% in Arkansas (247,500), 51.0% in Kansas (262,600),and 49.0% in Rhode Island (88,200) -- 600,900 total. X again gets 10 electoral votes, Y gets 6; but this time X actually lost the popular vote by 1,000 votes.

    • Now imagine the above, but along with a change in voter turnout. Say Arkansas only gets a 17% voter turnout, Kansas 19%, and it's miserable weather in the northeast and Rhode Island only manages a 13% voter turnout. Candidate X gets 50.5% in Arkansas (214,625), 49.0% in Kansas (242,060), and 51.0% in Rhode Island (59,670) -- 516,355 total. Candidate Y gets the converse: 49.5% in Arkansas (210,375), 51.0% in Kansas (251,940),and 49.0% in Rhode Island (57,330) -- 519,645 total. X again gets 10 electoral votes, Y gets 6; but this time X actually lost the popular vote by 3,290 votes. The candidate that lost overall 49.84% to 50.16% "wins" the electoral vote 10 to 6.

      (Including the effect of third party candidates can cause the imbalances to grow even greater.)

  2. Although the census was completed, reapportionment of congressional districts and electors will not be done until 2001. Therefore, there is a current imbalance in electoral votes among the states, and because it has been 10 years since the last reapportionment (based on the 1990 census), it is probably as extreme an imbalance as it has ever been.

    The following states have too many congressional districts and electors and should lose one or two next year:

    • Connecticut (1) Gore
    • Illinois (1) Gore
    • Mississippi (1) Tossup
    • New York (2) Gore
    • Ohio (1) Bush
    • Oklahoma (1) Bush
    • Pennsylvania (2) Tossup
    • Wisconsin (1) Tossup

    The following states have too few and should gain one or two next year:

    • Arizona (2) Bush
    • California (1) Gore
    • Colorado (1) Bush
    • Florida (1) Tossup
    • Georgia (1) Bush
    • Montana (1) Bush
    • Nevada (1) Bush
    • Texas (2) Bush

    Of course, rebalancing the electors next year is too late for this election. Ignoring the current tossup states, a reapportionment would probably remove 4 electors from states where Gore has the lead and 2 electors from states where Bush leads, then add 1 elector to a Gore state and 7 electors to Bush states. This indicates, as the polls currently stand, that Bush is being shortchanged by 8 electoral votes due to the population differences between the 1990 census and the 2000 (1999 est.) census results. (Post reapportionment estimates from EDS and current polls by state from CNN.)

So, now the title of this thread, Election 2000 - Belgrade, USA?, should become clear. Most everybody was thrilled by "the power of the people" when Kostuncia's supporters essentially ousted Milosevic after the election. I don't think anybody really knows whether the vote was 48% Kostuncia, 40% Milosevic and 12% others which would have called for a runoff election; or 51% Kostuncia, 40% Milosevic and 9% others which would have meant Kostuncia won outright. The fact the Kostuncia got more votes than Milosevic was all that mattered to anybody over there, or over here. (Part of the reason was that the 12% or 9% vote for others were votes for other opposition candidates against Milosevic, so most everybody automatically included them in the "Kostuncia mandate" and considered it essentially a 60-40 blowout for Kostuncia.)

So what should happen here if Bush wins the popular vote but Gore wins the electoral vote? Should Bush supporters rush to Washington and force Clinton from office and install Bush as president and prevent Gore from taking office?

Or, suppose Bush wins the electoral votes; but the popular vote is only 46% for Bush, with 47% Gore, 6% Nader and 1% others. Should Gore supporters consider the Nader votes as anti-Bush, lump them with Gore's and declare it a 53% to 46% mandate for Gore, then march on Washington to keep Bush from taking office in January?

Seriously, no matter how the election turns out, I don't expect the loser's forces to march on Washington in an attempt to overturn the election. But, a mismatched popular/electoral result like we could see from this election might raise a cry for a constitutional change to direct presidental elections. There has never been much support for changing the US electoral system; basically because most of the time it works fine and it's advantages somewhat outweigh it's disadvantages. This election could change that.


© 2000 Lynxx Pherrett, LynxxPherrett, et al. All rights reserved. Limited permission granted to NewsTrolls™ to store and transmit in various formats to NewsTrolls™ Threads readers.

As I stated later in comments to that thread, "I never meant I considered such an outcome as probable; just that it's more likely to occur in this election than any in a long time and wondered what the reaction would be." Now I know what the reaction was, and I'd really prefer not to have another four years of it; but, aside from reapportionment having been completed, the closeness of this election seems like a replay of 2000.

The electoral-popular vote disconnect certianly carries a share of the blame for the rancor of the past four years, though most of it may have been caused by the Florida recount circus and court involvement. This shows that the popular vote does count in at least one respect: while the popular vote doesn't determine the outcome of the election, it helps determine the acceptability and/or legitimacy of the electoral vote outcome.

When it comes to what caused the disconnect, the disparity in voter turnout between Red and Blue states seems to have played a major role. The FEC calculated 2000 voter turnout as 51.3 percent of the voting age population (VAP). Total Red state voter turnout was 50.0% of VAP, while Blue state turnout was 52.5% of VAP. That 2.5 point edge in Blue state turnout gave Gore the popular vote — had it been reversed, and 52.5% of Red staters turned out while only 50.0% of Blue staters showed up, Bush would have one the popular vote as well as the electoral vote. And it wasn't just the turnout in the "battleground states" that mattered, but also the solid Democratic and Republican states.

I may clean up my analysis and post it later, but here is an example using New York and Texas (2000 vote totals from the FEC):

New York
VAP: 13,805,000
Total Vote: 6,821,999
Turnout: 49.42%
Bush vote: 2,403,374 (35.23%)
Gore vote: 4,107,697 (60.21%)

VAP: 14,850,000
Total vote: 6,407,637
Turnout: 43.15%
Bush vote: 3,799,639 (59.30%)
Gore vote: 2,433,746 (37.98%)

Gore ahead in popular vote by 338,430.

Reduce voter turnout in New York by 2.5 points:
New York
VAP: 13,805,000
Total Vote: 6,476,874
Turnout: 46.92%
Bush vote: 2,281,787 (35.23%)
Gore vote: 3,899,889 (60.21%)

Increase voter turnout in Texas by 2.5 points:
VAP: 14,850,000
Total vote: 6,778,887
Turnout: 45.65%
Bush vote: 4,019,785 (59.30%)
Gore vote: 2,574,754 (37.98%)

Gore's lead in the popular vote is cut almost in half to 173,070.

In 2000, the VAP in Red states totaled 102,337,000 of which 51,128,722 (49.96%) cast ballots for president; Blue states had 103,478,000 of which 54,276,378 (52.45%) cast ballots for president. Had that voter turnout been reversed, without changing the proportions of the vote in each state going to Bush and Gore and the electoral outcome, there would have been approximately 53,687,000 Red state ballots cast versus 51,689,000 in the Blue states; and Bush would have edged out Gore in the popular vote as well as the electoral vote.

This has some relevance to people who do not live in the "battleground states" where the outcome is up for grabs. Although their individual vote may not directly influence the outcome of the presidental election, it may well influence the political tone of the four years following the election. Winning the popular vote adds to the perceived legitimacy of winning the electoral vote. Bush supporters in solidly Republican states who didn't bother to vote in 2000 because, "I knew Bush was gonna win my state so my vote didn't matter," or in solidly Democratic states who didn't bother to vote because, "I knew Gore was gonna win my state so my vote didn't matter," are one of the main reason Democrats have been able to spend four years pointing to the popular vote whenever they called Bush's election "illegitimate."

I hope the same thing doesn't happen again this year.

UPDATE - November 3, 2004: Bush 51% to Kerry 48%. Thank you, voters.

A note to those complaining the media wasn't carrying the result out a couple of decimal places or rounding to their satisfaction (see comments on this Daily Pundit post): the numbers to two decimal places stand right at 51.07% and 48.00%, which both round and truncate to 51% and 48%.

Unfinalized vote tallies via AP/C-SPAN and my calculations:


Those who have been comming up with things like 51.5% Bush and 48.5% Kerry seem to be forgetting to add the votes for other candidates into the total before dividing.

Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.