Al Gore is still out there, muttering in various degrees, or eliciting mutters from his supporters, to continue the petulant complaint that he somehow won the 2000 Presidential Election, only to see it “stolen” from him. Gore, of course, is a moron and an unprincipled boor, but since millions of Democrats still embrace that charade, it is important to understand the direction the 2008 Presidential election is likely to take because of this confusion.
Gore, as we know, based his moral argument for “winning” the election on the claim that he gained more Popular votes than then-Governor Bush. The unchallenged totals from the election certainly had Gore ahead on that count, and perhaps Gore would have remained ahead after reviews, should that factor have been judged significant enough to decide the race. Gore supporters constantly ignore the fact that had the Popular Vote been the deciding factor in the 2000 election, the difference of far less than one percent in the Popular Vote would justify a recount, by the same logic used by Democrats to demand recounts at lower levels. To presume Gore would have won the recount depends on a series of events happening a certain way, when in the actual even nothing of the sort ever came about. But of course all this speculation misses the way that Presidential elections always operate; the goal to claim an Electoral majority.
Back when the nation was being formed, the decision on whether to have an Executive, how he would be put into office, and how the rights of each state would be protected were vital discussions, so important that we would not have a Constitution at all were it not for the Electoral College. Just as some Democrats today want the President to be selected by the winner of a national Popular Vote, there was a similar push for such a thing in the Eighteenth Century, unsurprisingly by delegates from states like New York and Pennsylvania, whose candidates would gain an automatic and perhaps insurmountable advantage simply for coming from states with large urban populations. It’s not hard to see that if they had won out, today’s politics would focus only on the needs of the major cities and heavy population states; then as now, places like Vermont and Rhode Island would be ignored in such a plan, which is why there was a need for the Electoral College. This comprehension is also why no drive has begun to abolish the Electoral College – Gore and his like whine and curse, but even the Democratic Party understands that they must speak to the whole nation, in order to remain a national party. So for the foreseeable future, Presidential elections in the United States are a “Race to 270”, the needed Electoral Votes to claim a majority in the College. Understanding the Electoral College, therefore, can provide clues to the next winner, no matter what the field looks like now.
This is the first section of the discussion, and today I am addressing margins. The Presidential Elections can be examined in many ways, but it should be understood that elections have changed significantly over the years. Basically, you have elections before 1824, which may be discarded here for two reasons – the process of selecting Electors by direct popular election in a state did not begin until 1824. Also, the Democrats did not exist until then. Of course, the Republicans did not come into the contest until 1856, so that puts a blot on the 1824-1852 elections. But even then, for me the real race as we know it began in 1948, so that is my personal choice for a starting point. It gives us fifteen elections to consider, all of them generally comparable to the modern contest in form and process. Of course, it is interesting to note that there is a nine to six split between the Republicans and Democrats in election wins, though if you break it down to candidates over that time, it’s an even five to five in that span; only Clinton was able to claim a second term, while Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush have been able to do it for the Republicans.
Using the 2004 and 2008 Electoral values for states, there are seven states with twenty or more Electoral Votes. So for this article I simply want to look at the election margins of those states.
California has always been a big prize, and Conventional Wisdom has it firmly in Democrat hands. Certainly California has gone to the Democrat in every Presidential election since 1992, but since the end of World War 2 it’s been a GOP state eight times, against six for the Democrats (with an effective tie in 1960 – When the vote is less than three-quarters of a percent I am calling it a ‘push’) . The greatest margin for a Democrat was 18% in 1964. The greatest margin for a Republican was 17% in both 1980 and 1984. So for now it’s a Blue state for 2008, but a light-blue one. Worth 55 EV.
Texas has been long seen as a Republican stronghold, and the numbers bear it out, especially in recent history. Texas has gone for the Republican candidate in every Presidential election since 1980. In the span measured the state has gone GOP ten times, against five for the Democrats. The greatest margin for the Democrats was 42% in 1948, and the greatest Republican margin was 33% in 1972. Texas may reasonably be considered a pretty deep Red state for 2008. Worth 34 EV.
New York has been a key state for both Republicans and Democrats over the years, but it’s been Democrat in Presidential runs since 1988. In our span the Democrats enjoy a nine to six advantage. The greatest margin for a Democrat was 38% in 1964, while the strongest Republican result was 22% in 1956. When Bush failed to improve much in the 2004 election from his National Security stand, the strength of this deep Blue state was made evident. Worth 31 EV.
Florida has been a GOP state since 2000, with Republicans holding a nine to five edge in the examined span. The largest Democrat margin was 15% in 1948, while the largest Republican margin was 44% in 1972. Efforts by the Democrats put Florida in play for 2000, but in 2004 it was clearly headed back to the Right. Call this one a medium Red state. Worth 27 EV.
Illinois is thought of as an unshakeable Liberal bastion. Unions and old-school party loyalty swung the state for Kennedy in 1960, and have held down any serious focus on Republican candidates over recent years. Yet the Democrats have only held this state since 1992, and in the span it’s eight to six GOP. The largest margin for a Democrat in that time was 19 % in 1964, but the GOP won Illinois by 20% in 1956. This is a Blue state, but much weaker than it appears on the surface. Worth 21 EV.
Pennsylvania is a stronger Democratic state. Like Illinois, Pennsylvania has gone to the Democrats every time since 1992, but the Democrats own an eight to seven advantage since WW2. Also, the largest Democrat margin was 30% in 1964, against 20% for the Republicans in 1972. Deep Blue state. Worth 21 EV.
And finally, we come to Ohio. Ohio went for the Republicans the last two times around, and in the span the GOP owns a ten to four advantage. The best Democrat margin was 26% in 1964, while the Republicans managed a 22% margin in both 1956 and 1972. Basically, the Democrats either win by a bunch there, or – more often – the Republicans hold on and win the close ones. Deeper Red than you may think. Worth 20 EV.
In summary, what have we found? Well, one obvious reason that only Democrats want to can the Electoral College, is that they depend more on Big States, while Republicans get a lot of the smaller states, especially the heartland, lighter in population but much deeper in work ethic and common sense. But it’s also interesting to note that of the seven big states, while five are pretty secure, another two – worth 76 Electoral Votes – are showing cracks in their loyalty, and have a history which indicates they might listen to a charismatic Republican.