The Mystery of the Four Million Missing Gore Voters Bushs Mandate Largely Caused by Peculiarities of the Electoral College
The President and his aides, for whom the words popular vote were strictly verboten in 2000, have suddenly found meaning in the constitutionally insignificant vote totals. A 3.5 million vote margin is a mandate, proclaims the President, who considered his 540,000 popular vote loss to be a similar mandate just four years ago. Although his 51%-48% popular-vote victory is the smallest percentage margin of victory for any re-elected President in American history, Bush insists it nevertheless earned him sufficient political capital to ride his policies and his judicial picks roughshod over the hapless 56 million Americans who voted for John Kerry.
Close examination of the election results, however, suggest that even the popular vote is tainted by the peculiarities of Americas Electoral-College system. If the same 2004 electorate had directly elected the President of the United States, Bushs 3.5 million popular-vote margin would have been far smaller, and he might well have lost to Kerry. It all has to do with those battleground states.
We know from experience that not all votes for President are counted equally in the United States. If you live in Ohio or Florida, your vote is extremely important to the final outcome. If you live in California, New York, Texas, or Georgia, there is little point in voting at all. Even with low turnout, the overwhelming pro-Kerry sentiment in the former two states and pro-Bush sentiment in the latter two meant that the result was all but assured. Thats why the candidates spent no time campaigning in these four populous states. Calculating voters who were dual residents of New York and Florida chose to vote in Florida while Ohio/Texas residents picked Ohio to cast their ballot. The Electoral College system, by its very nature, gave powerful incentives to marginal voters in the swing states to stand in line to vote while those in the solid states had far less reason to turn out.
If there had been no other races on the ballot, voters in solid blue states and solid red states would probably have stayed home in roughly the same numbers, and the Presidential popular vote count would not have been much affected. But in Election 2004, there were a number of close Senate races in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota. Coincidently, every one of these close Senate races occurred in red states that voted for Bush. In addition, Tom Delays controversial gerrymander to kick five Democrats out of their Congressional seats in Texas led to high turnout in that most populous of red states. And state measures to bar gay couples from equal marriage benefits also led to high turnout in eleven states, of which nine (including Georgia) were red states. As the two blue states with anti-gay measures, Oregon and Michigan, already were battleground states, it is unlikely they caused much increased turnout for Kerry.
The upshot of all this is reflected in the turnout map: despite the largest national turnout in 36 years, millions of Democratic voters in the solid blue states, including the nations two most populous states of California and New York, stayed home, having no seriously contested Presidential race, Senate race, or anti-gay-marriage measure on which to vote. This differs sharply from four years ago, when Bush contested California and Hillary Clinton was elected in New York. In contrast, people in solid red states had much higher turnout despite the fact that their vote had little affect on the Presidential race, because their participation was quite important in close races down ballot.
National exit polls confirm the theory. The almost 20 million new voters preferred Kerry over Bush by eight percentage points. (Maybe political strategist Karl Rove is not the genius he is proclaimed to be: whatever newly-found evangelical Christians Karl Rove managed to find, they were offset by newly-voting Kerry supporters.) Voters that supported Nader and other third party candidates in 2000 preferred Kerry over Bush by a whopping 50-point margin (71% to 21%). And more 2000 voters switched from Bush to Kerry than switched from Gore to Bush.
So if both the 2000 voting electorate and new voters preferred Kerry over Bush, how could Kerry have possibly lost the 2004 popular vote? Because far more 2000 Gore voters than 2000 Bush voters stayed home and did not vote in 2004. Crunching the numbers shows that less than 640,000 or 1% of Bush voters in 2000 stayed home in 2004 (or died) while a staggering 3.9 million or 8% of Gore voters did not vote in 2004.
These almost four million missing Gore voters swamp Bushs 3.5 million popular-vote margin. Not that their voted mattered much. As they were from solid blue states, the missing Gore voters could not have delivered Kerry the Presidency or affected the electoral count. Kerry was right to milk every vote he could from Ohio, Florida, and the other swing states.
But the four million missing Gore voters belie the notion that the American People gave Bush a strong mandate. As shown, the Electoral College system, by its very nature, dampens and skews the popular vote. If we had had a direct election where every vote had been counted equally, surely these missing 2000 Gore voters in solid blue states would have been as motivated to come to the polls as the 2000 Bush voters in solid red states, who came primarily to cast ballots for close Senate races and anti-gay marriage measures.
The four million missing Gore voters might just have given Kerry a very close victory margin.
Mark Levine, a former Congressional attorney, hosts a radio talk show in Washington DC and on the Internet at www.RadioInsideScoop.com .
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