dirty rag

Election 2000 - Behind The Numbers - Mike McCrea

While this year's election has produced countless discussions and debates about our decision-making process, a look inside the numbers produces many fascinating points. For Al Gore, quality meant more than quantity, as he won fewer states, but those he won carried more electoral power. George W. Bush, on the other hand, won more of the smaller states, and in fact could have won even more states had he won the third parties' votes. Ralph Nader personally could have altered 6 of the 7 closest races, if all his votes went to the losing party. Finally, the Electoral College has made this a very close race, but a different analysis shows that this election could have been a landslide. All of these ideas and more will be expanded to reveal a very interesting examination of this year's controversial results.

Before beginning this analysis, several key facts need to be noted. The information used for analysis did not include results for Oregon and Florida, as at the time of data calculation neither state had decided a clear winner. In an effort to see if third parties had any effect on either candidate, all third party votes were added to the losing party's candidate in each of those states. Seven states could have been reversed had this happened: Nevada and New Hampshire could have been won by Gore, and Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin could have went to Bush (See Figure 1). While it is understood that the above assumption is virtually impossible, it allows us to examine the two candidates directly. It allows us to see if the victor in each state actually was able to defeat the sum of the candidates, giving a more true sense of victory.

Al Gore won the popular vote in this year's election, but by a narrow margin. As well, his lead in electoral votes is still so narrow that no winner has been decided three weeks after election day. Put plainly, the Vice President won the states that mattered most. He won only 20 of the 49 (40.8%) decided states, but those he won carried more electoral power. In fact, six of the ten largest electoral states were won by Gore, and one other, Florida, is still not decided (See Figure 2). These six states accounted for 165 of his 260 electoral votes won (63.5%). The average electoral votes per state won was 13 votes.

When adding all third party votes to Gore's popular vote total in the states he lost, only two states would have been reversed: Nevada and New Hampshire. The other 27 states would still have been lost, and in significant fashion: a total of 70% of the 27 states were still lost by 50,000 votes or more, and 52% of these 27 states were lost by over 100,000 votes. His average loss per state for this group was nearly 170,000 votes. The two states that could have been reversed with all third party votes carried four electoral votes each. Granted, that this would be enough to win the election along with Oregon's votes, but the relative lack of potential reversals does not show the third parties to be a significant factor in the Tennessee politician's results. In summary, Gore won the states that counted most, and was not overly hampered by the effects of the third party voters.

The results for Texas Governor George W. Bush are somewhat different; his strength is in the overall quantity of the states he won. He claimed victory in 29 total states, but only received a total of 246 electoral votes for them. That averages out to 8.5 electoral votes per state won. Of the ten largest states in the electoral college, Bush only took three: Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina (See Figure 2). These states accounted for 67 of his 246 EV, a scant 27.2% of his total. However, the Texan took 26 of the other 40 states, or 65% of the bottom 90% of the electoral college. This fact in particular is the reason why we still have not reached a decision in the race for the presidency.

In considering the effect of third party candidates, an interesting trend arises: The third parties may have helped Bush win more states than Al Gore, had the governor won all third party votes. In all, five states would have been reversed if Bush took all third party votes in the states he lost: Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wisconsin (See Figure 1). These states comprise 37 electoral votes, a little more than 7 votes per state. Of the fifteen remaining states that would have still been lost with all third party votes, 60% were lost by 100,000 votes or more, and his average loss was still over 278,000 votes. This figure helps to show how Bush won more states, yet did not win the popular vote; on average, Bush lost by over 100,000 more votes than his rival in their losses. In fact, even including all third party votes with each losing candidate, Bush only won one state by over 400,000 votes (Texas), while Gore won four (California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York) by the same margin.

As a bit of trivia, George W. Bush had the uncanny coincidence of winning every state with a direction in its name (North and South Carolina, North and South Dakota, and West Virginia). [Where were all the political analysts with that one?] We can see that the combination of George W. Bush's lower electoral vote victories and lopsided losses have prevented our nation from finding a clear winner in this year's election. We can also hypothesize that third party votes could have helped George Bush significantly, had he received all, or at the very least a large majority, of their votes.

When examining the effect of third parties, the primary candidate in question is the Green Party's Ralph Nader. As previously mentioned, votes cast for Nader alone could have reversed decisions in six of the seven closest races. The only race that he could not have swung on his own was that of Nevada. Overall, Bush beat Gore by a total of 21,590 votes. Nader received 15,004, and surprisingly, 3315 votes were recorded for "None Of These", as reported by CNN.com. Had Gore received all third party votes in this state, he would have won by nearly 6,000 votes (See Figure 1). Every other state would have been won by over 10,000 votes if the loser were to receive all third party tallies.

It has been previously stated that Bush may have been more positively affected had he received third party votes in the states he lost. In the five states Bush could have won with third party votes, Nader averaged 60,871 votes per state, for 4.1% of the popular vote. On the other hand, in the two states that Gore could have won under similar circumstances, the Green Party averaged only 18,580 votes (3.2%) per state. It was stated in the introduction that the notion of all third party votes going to the loser in each state was nearly impossible, and this is exemplified here: In the states Gore won, Nader tended to receive more votes, continuing the Democratic trend seen in that state. In the states that Bush won, however, Nader's low vote count shows either a heavily Republican voter turnout, or a swing of Liberals towards Gore to help him defeat the Republican candidate.

Overall, the 45 electoral votes held by the seven close states accounts for only 8.4% of all possible electoral votes. This small percentage and the relative insignificance of the third party votes on the overall outcomes by state make it hard to consider them a real factor in this year's presidential race.

As one of our closest races in decades, a renewed focus has been placed upon the role of the Electoral College. At this time, neither candidate has achieved enough of a majority to claim victory, and this has helped draw critical attention to our method of determining our nation's leader. As seen in this article, Gore has won the popular vote through larger victory margins, despite winning only 41% of the available states (again, not counting Oregon or Florida). He also holds a lead in electoral votes, by winning the states that carry the most electoral clout. Is this system, one where the potential winner does not even claim 50% of the nation's territories, the system that should be followed? Another system that places more emphasis on the number of states won produces very different results.

For the sake of consideration, I ranked each state according to electoral votes (1 to 51), and assigned points to each candidate based on the rank, rather than the electoral votes, for each state (See Figure 3). The numbers here emphasize quantity, but also respect quality as well. The major difference is the relative lack of parity between states at the higher end. For instance, North Carolina is the tenth-largest electoral college member, at 14 votes. In my system, they are number 42 of 51. California is the largest, at 54 electoral votes, and 51 in the hypothetical situation. The difference becomes magnified in the new system -- In the electoral system, the difference is 40 votes, while in the new system, the difference is only nine.

The results of this new system put Bush ahead easily, at 641-537. We still can see how Gore's victories mattered most, as his average rank per state won still rated 26.85 to George W's 22.10. When averaging these numbers out among the 49 total decided states, we see that sheer numbers begin to take precedence: Bush averaged a 13.08 rank, and Gore 10.96. This system obviously places greater emphasis upon the who wins more states overall. This does not take popular vote into effect, but levels out the playing field a little more for the middle-range states that can often seem meaningless in the Electoral College.

While Bush has not received a majority of the popular vote, the Vice President only claimed victory in 41% of the decided states. For someone who is to act as the leader of an entire nation, more weight needs to be placed upon the consensus of the states. This method does produce an obvious victor, but there are likely ways to create a deadlock in this system, and, as in Bush's case, the winner does not need to win the popular vote to end up in office. The electoral college is not perfect, nor is it foolproof, but the above system is no more of an ideal solution. This just illustrates the difficulty in finding a clear victor in a heated, close race such as this year's.

I have tried to present this information in the most impartial manner. The statistics seen within this year's election results have shown some interesting figures. Al Gore has taken the popular vote and a larger number of electoral votes despite winning 9 fewer states than his rival. Bush, on the other hand, has won more states, but still trails Gore due to electoral vote counts in the states he has won, and lopsided losses that prevented him from winning the popular vote.

In states where third party votes could reverse a decision, Ralph Nader may have been the factor in almost all of those states. Our electoral college system has not found a victor, while systems that favor quantity will produce a clear-cut winner. These facts and figures may mean nothing, or they may mean everything with relation to the election; eventually a president will be decided, and most of these trivial numbers will likely be forgotten, but the debates and discussions of this close race will continue long into the future.