Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Measuring election closeness

Breitbart reports:
Despite losing the popular vote 51% to 48% -- not a landslide for Obama by any means, but on the other hand not the “neck and neck” outcome many predicted -- Mitt Romney would be President today if he had secured 333,908 more votes in four key swing states.
Comparing to other close elections, I wrote this in Oct. 2004:
Winning the popular vote means winning a majority. Gore did not win the popular vote, as a majority of the voters voted against Gore in 2000. Presidents won the popular votes only in 1952, 56, 64, 72, 76, 80, 84, 88. Clinton never won the popular vote.

Gore did win a plurality of the popular vote in 2000 and lost, but Nixon did the same in 1960.

To measure how close an election was, I believe the best way is to look at how many votes a loser needed to have won in order to change the outcome. The closest elections in my lifetime were 2000, 1976, 1960, and 1968. (Data from this article.)

Gore could have won in 2000 with about 500 more votes in Florida.

Ford would have won in 1976 with about 18k more votes in Ohio and Hawaii.

Nixon would have won in 1960 with about 60k more votes in Illinois and Texas.

Humphrey would have won in 1968 with about 106k more votes in New Jersey, Missouri, and New Hampshire, assuming Democratic control of the House.
So this election would be the fifth-closest in my lifetime.

In the overall popular vote, Obama's margin was 2.7%, making it the 12th-smallest in USA history. It was the 2nd smallest re-election margin.

Update: Judge Richard A. Posner lists Five reasons to keep our despised method of choosing the president. There are more arguments on Wikipedia. Everyone acts as if it is an anachronism, but it is much better than the alternatives.

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