Spin is Spin

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I’m allergic to hype; I’m allergic to spin. No matter the source or reason. I’ve also learned a few things about history and politics.

So given all that, forgive me for going off-topic, but I’ve read so much nonsense the last couple days about the upcoming U.S. election that I want to make a couple points.

“This election is sooooooooooooo close.” No, it isn’t.

It’s not even tremendously close by U.S. presidential standards. Closer than most, but then most Presidential elections this century aren’t close; the only really close one was 1960.

Keep a few things in mind:

Most polls have consistent biases : It’s hard to ask a completely impartial question, or to conduct a poll with a completely representative audience.

If you track polls for a couple months, you will see a very clear pattern of certain polls favoring one side, and other polls favoring the other. This was true twenty years ago, and it’s just as true today.

If you look at the poll showing Gore only a point behind now, and see that poll’s results over the past couple months, you’ll see that that particular poll has consistently favored Gore over the past few months, showing him with a bigger lead, or trailing by less than other polls.

On the other hand, if you look at the poll showing Bush five points ahead now, you’ll see that that poll has consistently favored Bush over the past few months.

The truth tends to be somewhere in the middle.

What is true is that the election is close enough, and the trends (which seems to indicate a narrowing Bush lead) appear to indicate that Gore still has a shot.

The media always wants a contest

It’s more fun to talk about a close election. It makes the media more money if there is at least the appearance of a contest. So if the media has the slightest excuse to call an election close, they will.

The Electoral College junkies come out of the woodwork

Being an Electoral College expert is lonelier than being a Maytag repairman. The reason for that is it’s extraordinarily difficult for it to matter.

First, if you have only have two guys running who can actually win a state (which is the case here), you’d have to have a tie to have a problem in the Electoral College, and in that case, they just pass the buck to the House. This has never happened.

The potential odds of a problem increase with a strong third party candidate, but it’s extraordinarily rare that a third-party candidate can actually win states. Not impossible, but the relatively few times that has happened, the winner got through pretty easily.

The closest we’ve come in the twentieth century is 1968, when George Wallace got 46 electoral votes, but Richard Nixon still got a bit over 300, well over the 270 required. A third-party candidate has never prevented someone from getting a majority in the Electoral College in the twentieth century.

Yes, in theory, you can win the popular vote but not the Electoral College vote. In practice, it doesn’t happen. The election has to be extremely extremely close for even the possibility to arise.

What the Electoral College does is distort the majority. Electoral college votes (with a couple minor exceptions) don’t get shared out based on how you did. If you win, even by one vote, you get all of them. If you lose, even by one vote, you get none of them.

If you get even 3% more of the vote than the other, you normally win a much higher percentage of the electoral vote total because (with a couple minor exceptions), it’s winner-take-all.

In the last election, for instance, Clinton only got 43% of the vote, which was about 5% more than Dole got, but he got close to 80% of the electoral vote total. That’s because he kept beating Dole by a little in a whole lot of states, and got all the electoral votes from those states.

In US history, excluding those periods when most people couldn’t vote, period, it has happened twice that a candidate got more votes, but somebody else became President.

It happened in 1876, but to make a long story short, that election was more than a little fraudulent. It did happen quite legitimately in 1888, but that election was extraordinarily close, with the candidates coming within 1/10 of one percent of each other (to find out more about that particular election, go here).

While the possibility that someone with a minority of the vote could get a majority of the electoral votes is higher than a tie, it’s still very, very unlikely.

Nader’s Going to Hand the Presidency Over to Bush!

First, the vote totals of third-party candidates tend to collapse once the real vote has come in, unless that third-party candidate really does have a big chunk of votes (i.e, Ross Perot). I would be very surprised if Nader gets anything like 5% of the total national vote.

Second, just taking the Gore + Nader vote and comparing it to the Bush vote is pretty simplistic. That assumes every single Nader voter would have gone out and voted for Gore if Nader hadn’t been around. That’s pretty unlikely.

Not that a really big chunk of them would have voted for Bush instead, but I’d bet a sizable minority would have just stayed home if Ralph hadn’t run. For the rest, if you’re a liberal Democrat, you have to be pretty mad at Al Gore to vote for Ralph Nader instead in an election like this. You’d probably be likely to stay home, too.

If Gore loses a state like Michigan during good times for the auto industry and with a politically active union like the United Auto Workers because Ralph “Unsafe At Any Speed” Nader gets 3% of the vote; there’a a much bigger problem out there than Nader.

You can say that about the Gore campaign in general. In the past, when you’ve had similiar circumstances (Vice President trying to succeed a popular President while the economy was good), the Vice President wins comfortably. No doubt Mr. Nader’s going to become the scapegoat for any Democratic defeat, but you don’t have to believe that.


If you’re an American, no matter whom you prefer, vote tomorrow. If you aren’t registered this time, get registered for the next one. Don’t say, “My vote doesn’t matter.” Your vote matters just as much as every other vote.

If you say, “but my vote doesn’t mean anything,” what do you want? Do you want to be a voter or a dictator? Would you be happy if you heard Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather or Peter Jennings say, “Well, X got most of the votes, but Ed Stroligo voted for Y, so Y wins?”:)

Email Ed


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