Something's rotten in the state of Denmark

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Swing dancing

University of Louisville professor Rodger Payne has recently compiled some interesting facts about the election -- affirming that, for all the talk of "broad nationwide mandates," this was an incredibly close electoral election... and could have been even closer. And that so much of Bush's big margin of votes against Kerry -- and improvement over Bush's performance in 2000 -- came from states that weren't being contested... both red and blue.

"If John Kerry had won 13,300 more votes in Iowa, 11,000 additional votes in New Mexico and 21,600 more votes in Nevada (a total of fewer than 46,000 votes), then the Electoral College would have turned out 269-269.... In percentage terms, Ohio was about as close as these three states, but the vote margin was 137,000 (to date, those provisional ballots still aren't tabulated)."

"Obviously, Kerry also narrowly won a couple of states. New Hampshire and Wisconsin were won by a total of just over 20,000 votes. Add those to Bush's column and he gets to 300 electoral votes. Pennsylvania and Michigan were about as close as Ohio."

"Bush's percent of the vote went down from 2000 to 2004 in only Vermont and Virginia. The latter must be a good sign for Democrats for 2008 and beyond. Again, there are underlying demographic shifts at work that help explain this outcome."

But here's the really interesting stuff: Rodger has figured out that Bush won "a hell of a lot more votes in 2004 in states that were not at all contested. I could have added Tennessee, where Bush added another 280,000 votes to his margin and Oklahoma, for another 200,000." Rodger explains it in detail, but Bush's improved victory margins from 2000 in seven uncontested states -- New York, New Jersey, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Indiana, and Connecticut (true, there were times that New Jersey was almost a swing state) -- accounted for half of Bush's 3.6 million margin over Kerry. These are states that weren't swarmed and inundated with political ads.

Most of the highly contested swing states didn't move much in Bush's direction, with one exception: Florida. There, Bush improved his margin by 400,000 votes over 2000.

In the states Kerry seriously contested, the country had a very close election. That is why I began above with the points about the really close swing states. The closest elections occurred in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wisconsin, as well as the big three of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. These were 8 of the 9 states Kerry spent most of his time and money and he very nearly won the election. Florida was the 9th state and the only swing state featuring a big move toward Bush.

Where Kerry did not campaign, the President racked up huge vote margins. I've now listed 10 states with significant Bush movement and found 2.6 million of his 3.6 million victory margin in the popular vote.

Remove the 5 states that were virtually tied and that means the other 35 states explain only 1 million of the 3.6 million margin of victory for the President.

Thus, it looks like incumbency was worth a point or two in virtually every state in 2004 and Kerry's strategic decision not to campaign across the country likely depressed his potential vote total all over the map. Votes in large areas of the country were simply not in play, meaning that residents of those states had four years of Bush to weigh against the relatively unknown Kerry.

Move fewer than 200,000 votes and Kerry would have won the Electoral College 289-249, despite losing the popular vote by perhaps 3.4 million votes.

This is one of the more interesting analyses of the election results that I've read. And if that isn't a winning argument against the electoral college system -- and yes, as a Kerry voter, I know, I know, I should be rooting for the electoral college -- I don't know what is.