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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Election observations

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Managing Editor

The superstitions failed to predict the outcome of this presidential election.

The Washington Redskins lost their last home game prior to the election, which has always foreshadowed a loss by the incumbent.

Sen. John Kerry was the winner in the Nickelodeon kids' poll, which had proven an accurate prognosticator of the actual results in the four presidential elections held since it was first conducted.

When the Red Sox defeated the Cardinals in a World Series sweep, superstitious sports fans saw it as a foreshadowing of a Kerry victory in the election. That's because George Bush threw out the first pitch in the St. Louis Cardinals' season opener against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium, and John Kerry threw out the first pitch for the Boston Red Sox in a July contest against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. (If you are both a Kerry supporter and a baseball fan, I advise you NOT to look at any of the photos or clips of Kerry's pitch circulating on the Internet; it will only depress you.)

I suspect that the Red Sox victory triggered some cosmic shift that will forever make predictions based on superstitions obsolete. Or maybe they just transferred their curse to Kerry.

The experts also failed to predict the outcome.

A high turnout has traditionally favored Democrats. In this case, Democrats predicted that if more than 110 million voters cast their votes Kerry was sure to win. More than 115 million Americans cast votes, a record number, but the Democrat still lost.

National voter polls in the weeks, and especially days, immediately prior to the election showed a slim Bush lead narrowing to a dead heat. And some polls showed Kerry winning. Fox News showed the challenger winning by 2 points. (An average of the final counts of more than a dozen national polls -- including Zogby, Gallup, USA Today, Harriss, Los Angeles Times, CBS, ABC and New York Times -- gave Bush a victory of about 1.5 percentage points. In the actual election, Bush won by just over 3 percentage points -- 51.4 percent to 48.3 percent.

Democrats accused Republicans of disenfranchising voters, but then sued in states across the country to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot. Most of the lawsuits failed, and Democratic leaders predicted that if Bush pulled off a win, Nader would be to blame for siphoning off votes from Kerry. Nader ended up with only about 400,000 votes, not nearly enough to affect the outcome.

It's in the numbers:

It has been well publicized that Bush received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history. His 59.7 million votes easily eclipsed the 54 million votes Ronald Reagan received in his landslide victory over Walter Mondale in 1984.

John Kerry received 56 million votes, making his total the second most votes ever cast for a presidential candidate, slightly more than Reagan in '84. Kerry also has the distinction of receiving the most votes ever in a losing race.

As a point of comparison, Harry Truman received 24 million votes, Thomas Dewey 22 million in their 1948 race. Combined, they received 13 million fewer votes than Bush.

The margin of victory (the exact number was still not complete as of this writing, two days after the election) of 3.5 million votes, was about the total number of votes President Ulysses S. Grant received in his 1872 victory.

It's a popular myth that the U.S. Supreme Court gave Bush a victory in the 2000 election by ending the recount that would have given the state -- and therefore the country -- to Al Gore. Major news agencies spent millions of dollars and many weeks recounting the Florida ballots and reached three conclusions:

A) Bush had indeed won the state,

B) His actual margin of victory was slightly more than the original count (about 500 votes), and

C) The original count was surprisingly accurate.

But it is true that Bush won in the Electoral College after losing the popular vote. Al Gore received 50,999,897 votes (50.26 percent), which was 543,895 more than Bush. That margin is more than Richard Nixon's margin over Hubert Humphrey (510,314) in 1968, and far more than John F. Kennedy's margin over Nixon (118,574) in 1960.

Bush in 2000 was the fourth president selected by the Electoral College after losing the popular vote. The others: John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison.

But many other presidents have been elected without receiving a majority in races with three or more candidates. In fact, before Bush's win last week, his father was the most recent president elected by a majority, and that was 16 years ago. Bill Clinton received 45 million votes in 1992, 47 million in 1996, each time in a three-man race in which Ross Perot took enough votes to prevent any candidate from reaching the 50-percent plateau.

Exit polls the morning of the election projected Kerry as the Electoral College winner, and TV pundits speculated that Kerry was likely to win the election despite failing to capture the popular vote, which would have been an interesting reversal of fortune for Bush. The predictions turned out to be wrong, but not by far. Bush's victory in Ohio was by just 136,000 votes.

The pundits said Florida was too close to call, and even on election day predicted it might be days before the outcome would be known. Bush carried the state by a comfortable 377,000 votes (5 percent), putting the state out of play relatively early in the evening and leading some to wonder how the pollsters could have gotten it so wrong.

Pundits on ABC said Kerry would make the South irrelevant to American presidential elections by winning the race after ignoring the South during his campaign. He didn't exactly ignore the South; he picked a southern running mate. But John Edwards not only failed to deliver the South, he couldn't even deliver his home state of North Carolina.

Bush continued the dominance of southern presidents that began in 1964. Only two presidents elected since 1964 have not come from the South, and they both came from southern California (Nixon and Reagan). Kennedy picked a southern running mate. And even Eisenhower, who called Kansas home, was born in Texas. No other region of the country has so dominated presidential politics for the last 50 years. Future candidates ignore the South to their peril.

Bill Clinton campaigned for Kerry in Arkansas the weekend before the election, leading many to speculate that the state, which experts considered comfortably red prior to the election, might be a tossup after all. But Bush doubled his margin of victory from the 2000 race, winning by more than 100,000 votes. Bush received 54.3 percent to Kerry's 44.5 percent, almost a mirror of Kerry's margin in California (54.6 percent to 44.3 percent), which Republicans considered out of play all along.

Much is being made of the red states and blue states, perhaps because the country is starting to divide more geographically. Heavily populated coastal states (including Great Lakes states) are blue (Democrat), while the great middle of the country is red (Republican).

Perhaps the attention to this started with the maps that circulated after the 2000 election that divided the country by county. Newsweek magazine has just released the county-by-county map of the U.S. for the 2004 election, which paints a similar picture. In both maps, the red is even more dominant because the Gore vote was concentrated in urban areas, including cities in the "red states," leaving the vast open space red in even the "blue states."

Rural America is more conservative and more Republican than urban America. The divisions in our country are at least as great between city and country as they are between middle and coastal states.