Friday, November 05, 2004

Running Up the Score

In the aftermath of the 2000 election, when the disparity between the popular vote and the electoral college proved troubling, one quote from the President stuck out in my mind. I found it here in Time magazine's interview with him when he was chosen "Person of the Year" for 2000:

TIME: Are you concerned that Al Gore got more of the popular vote than you did?

Not really. If you had told me 15 months ago, "You're going to be judged on who got the most popular votes as opposed to the electoral count," I suspect you'd have seen us run a different campaign. For example, I might have spent more time in my state of Texas trying to run up the score.
The website keeps track of the popular vote margins by state for the 2004 and 2000 elections (click on the Excel spreadsheets to see the raw data). Looking at all 51 contests, the President's share of the popular vote fell in only Vermont and Wyoming relative to his share in 2000. Some of that is due to the decline in the Nader vote in the two elections (which improved the shares of both the Democrat and Republican). So let's compare the change in the President's share relative to the Democratic opponent's share in the two years (i.e., (Bush - Kerry) - (Bush - Gore)).

The President failed to improve his relative share of the popular vote in the following 16 contests: Alaska, Colorado, DC, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. These contests allocated only 111 out of the 538 electoral votes.

The President narrowed his popular vote loss or widened his popular vote win in the other 35 contests. Interestingly, he improved relative to the Democrat in Texas by only 1.7 percentage points. Several other states made large contributions to his improvement in the relative share of the popular vote, including New York (+7.0), Florida (+5.0), New Jersey (+8.8), California (+2.2), Tennessee (+10.1), Georgia (+6.3), and Alabama (+10.8).

New York and California seem like unusual places for the President to have narrowed his popular vote deficit. Doxagora presents some calculations based on exit poll data that suggest significant pickups in big and small cities, with smaller improvements in suburbs and no improvements in small towns and rural areas. This pattern is contrary to what we might have expected.

Are these improvements in the relative share of the popular vote relevant for how the 2004 election turned out? Maybe not, but consider whether the deliberations inside the Kerry camp about whether to pursue litigation in Ohio or other close contests would have been different if Kerry held a small lead or faced only a small deficit in the total popular vote margin, rather than a 3.5 million deficit.

I conjecture that in future elections in which the electoral college outcome is projected to be close, candidates will independently seek a high popular vote count--even in states not perceived to be battleground states--to set themselves up in a favorable position to pursue or defend lawsuits. It may be that the Bush-Cheney campaign did exactly that in 2004, so quietly that no one really noticed until Tuesday night.


Jake said...

Congress better establish standard, verifiable, voting procedures for federal elections or there will be hell to pay.

It is unbelievable how angry people are about those election day lawsuits.

Anonymous said...

And as more votes come in- Iowa being key- Bush's lead increases to 4.6 million. If there was a concerted effort in BC04 to amp up the popular vote rather than spend all resources on EC strategies, it worked.

His lead in Ohio, incidentally, has fallen due to a voting machine error. He hangs on by about 136k.


Anonymous said...

You need to wait for the canvass to complete before making any determinations that require greater than 1-2 % accuracy. Long lines led to a large number of paper ballots in California especially urban areas. Also urban voters are more mobile. These provisional ballots were an average of 10% or greater of the votes cast on election day in many precincts. In less populated precincts, this percentage was considerably less. In addition, California allows for absentee votes to be dropped off on election day. These votes have not been completely counted yet. The results from 2002 are here:

Santa Clara County has over 150,000 uncounted ballots (assuming 40,000 were counted today - 11/5). This is on the high side, but not unusual.