The 2000 Election All Over Again?

We could be headed for another extremely close election where the Electoral Vote and the Popular Vote disagree with each other.

There have been four times in American history when the candidate who won the Presidency ended up losing the Popular Vote. The first time happened in the Election of 1824 when Andrew Jackson won the most raw votes in a four-way race, but John Quincy Adams ended up winning the Presidency when the election was thrown into the House of Representatives. Fifty six years later, Rutherford B. Hayes was deemed to have won the Electoral College in the 1876 Election but it was Samuel J. Tilden who actually received the most votes. A mere twelve years later in the Election of 1888, Grover Cleveland had a roughly 90,000 vote margin in the Popular Vote, but lost the Electoral College by some 60 vote. And, of course, we all know what happened in the 2000 Election. That’s four times over the course of 56 Presidential elections, less than 10% of the time in the 224 years we’ve been conducting Presidential elections. So, it’s not exactly very common and probably not something we ought to be making major changes in response to.

However, Charlie Cook is among those analysts suggesting that it could happen again this year:

Partisans still hoping that their candidate will build a clear lead in the presidential contest are likely to be disappointed. The race seems destined to be a close one, with the outcome remaining in doubt to the very end. President Obama won the second debate, but not by nearly enough to make up for his devastating loss in the first one. Obama was on the verge of putting the race away heading into the first debate, but his weak performance and Mitt Romney’s commanding effort effectively changed the race’s trajectory. Although Obama’s poll numbers are no longer dropping, he is locked in a tight contest: He trails Romney by 1 to 4 percentage points in national polling, yet he still holds a fragile lead in the Electoral College.

 (…)
Romney entered the first debate with an edge arguably in only one battleground state: North Carolina. Going into the second debate, the former Massachusetts governor also led narrowly in Florida and Virginia, putting him ahead in three of 11 battleground states. Obama now holds small leads in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, with a slightly wider advantage in Nevada. He still leads, in my judgment, in Ohio by about 4 points (although going into the second debate, one senior Romney strategist claimed that the two men were essentially tied at 47 percent in the Buckeye State). Romney is polling far back in Michigan and Pennsylvania, states that are effectively noncompetitive.

Although history and this column have argued that the popular vote and the electoral vote usually go in the same direction (that’s what happened in 53 of 56 presidential elections), today, Romney’s national popular-vote situation is different than his Electoral College challenge. Romney’s scar tissue in swing states — the damage inflicted on him by negative ads funded by the Obama campaign and Priorities USA, targeting Bain Capital, plant closings, layoffs, outsourcing, income taxes, and bank accounts in Bermuda, the Caymans, and Switzerland — is still a huge problem. This is compounded by the fact that before the ads aired, voters knew very little about Romney; because of that, they had no positive feelings or perceptions to help him weather the assault. As a result, the attacks stuck as if he were covered in Velcro. Hence, the swing states, many of which have endured saturation advertising since June (73,000 ads in Las Vegas alone), behave differently than the fortysomething other states that have seen little advertising.

(…)

I am now reconciled to the fact that this will be a race to the wire. I am watching Ohio and a handful of other swing states that are right at, or near, the 270-electoral-vote tipping point. In the end, the odds still favor the popular and electoral vote heading in the same direction, but the chances of a split like the one in 2000 are very real, along with the distinct possibility of ambiguity and vote-counting issues once again putting the outcome in question. Ugh.

Ed Morrissey is skeptical:

I consider this with the same seriousness as talk of brokered conventions.  They’re always possible, and they almost never happen.  In this case, Cook probably needs to check a few of his assumptions, since Pennsylvania and Michigan are closer in recent polling than he credits, and with that I’d suspect that Ohio is probably not giving Obama an edge, either.  Suffolk has already pulled out of Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina, declaring that their polling gives Obama no chance to win any of the three states.  If Obama manages to win enough battleground states to win the EC, he’s going to win the popular vote, too — or perhaps Cook thinks that Romney’s going to get massive margins of victory in California, New York, and Illinois.

It’s true that this is probably an unlikely outcome. After all, we’ve had plenty of close elections before and nearly all of them have seen the Popular Vote and Electoral Vote track each other. The 2004 election comes to mind, as does the 1976 contest between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon fight (although Sean Trende has an interesting argument on that election today that seems to show that Nixon actually won the popular vote).  In all likelihood, that’s what will happen again this year. However, I think Morrissey is discounting Cook’s argument a little too much. It’s true that Pennsylvania and Michigan are listed as “Toss-up” states at the moment, but it’s worth noting that RealClearPolitics has the polling average at +5.0 in the President’s favor in both states and that the President has been above 50% in both states in recent polling. That suggests to me that these states are going to end up in the President’s column. As for Suffolk’s decision to stop polling in Florida and Virginia in particular, they are the only polling company that has done that and both states are still being targeted by both campaigns, which indicates that they believe that both states are still in play.

For months, it has been apparent that the President has an advantage in the Electoral College while Governor Romney has a much narrower path to victory. That is largely because Obama could afford to lose several of the states he won in 2008 and still get to the 270 Electoral Votes that he needs to win while Romney needed to play an almost perfect game by picking up states like Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, not to mention Ohio, if he was going to get the Electoral Colleges magic number. That still remains the case even today, but the difference is that Romney has risen considerably in the national polls ever since the first debate. The magnitude of the rise is disputed depending on which polls you’re following, but it is real, and it makes the possibility of an Electoral College/Popular Vote split much greater. Combine that with the possibility that the results in one or more states are likely to be very close, and the possibility of a replay of the events of twelve years ago is greater than it might have been a month ago.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Let's Be Free says:

    Close? Doubtful. People are catching on. President Obama is speaking to his base today – government employees and their children – in Fairfax County Virginia. Fairfax County has the second highest per capita household income nationwide ($105,797), exceeded only by its western neighbor Loudoun County and just ahead of its eastern neighbor Arlington County. Yes, we know where economic growth and prosperity goes in the world of Obama, inside the Washington Beltway and environs. The multiplier on that nationwide, give or take, is approximately zero. That’s what Obama calls rebuilding the middle class.

  2. john personna says:

    I think there must be some dynamic where in a two party system each seeks just 50% plus a hair. That allows them to retain as much as possible of their immoderate positions while still gaining victory.

    I’m sure either party could redesign itself for 60-70% majority, but why? Given that parties are driven by their ideologues, they, the activists, would lose too much.

  3. KRM says:

    Here’s an idea: If you lose, be gracious in defeat. Maybe it’ll catch on.

  4. G.A. says:

    President Obama won the second debate

    LOL….

    I am sure he won this one too…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIHbe-aO6oI&feature=share

  5. Geek, Esq. says:

    Obama’s going to win the popular vote as well. WAY WAY WAY too much credibility is invested in Gallup.

    Nate Silver’s tweet from today:

    National polls published in past 24 hours: Obama +3.2, Obama +3, Obama +3, Obama +1, Obama +0.6, Obama +0.5, TIE, Romney +7.

    Gallup is low grade, low cost pollster that produces some gobsmackingly stupid results–26 point swings over a month and a 14 point swing over three day, and the popular vote loser ahead by 11 points–all in 2000 alone.

    Throw out Gallup’s junk number, and we have a race with Obama settling in with about a 2 point lead.

    This isn’t 2000, it’s 2004. Narrow lead for the incumbent, who got pasted in the first debate, with Ohio being the key swing state.

  6. C. Clavin says:

    Well if Ed Morrisey is skeptical…then it’s almost guaranteed to happen. What does Dick Morris say…while you are polling partisan nut-cases.

    The right wing partisans on the SCOTUS may get to invoke “…limited to present circumstances…” again.

  7. Geek, Esq. says:

    @john personna:

    Hard to see how either party would do that. Democrats’ coalition is already about as wide and diverse as it can be and still be a manageable political party. The Republican coalition is anti-urban, anti-immigrant, anti-GLBT, anti-government but pro sex-police–and if it dumps any of those planks you’ll see a third party split off.

  8. anjin-san says:

    President Obama is speaking to his base today – government employees

    Strange. When Bush made vast increases in the size, cost, and power of the federal government, conservatives were cheering at the top of their lungs. What is so different about this President? It’s a mystery…

  9. An Interested Party says:

    President Obama is speaking to his base today – government employees and their children – in Fairfax County Virginia. Fairfax County has the second highest per capita household income nationwide ($105,797), exceeded only by its western neighbor Loudoun County and just ahead of its eastern neighbor Arlington County. Yes, we know where economic growth and prosperity goes in the world of Obama, inside the Washington Beltway and environs.

    Oh please…if we want to stick to stereotypes, we can talk about how Romney only wants to help the wealthy at the expense of everyone else…even if there were any truth to the narrative above, at least there are actual members of the middle class in those counties, as opposed to who Romney wants to help…meanwhile, isn’t it interesting how we hear the above argument now, but not when there was a Republican in the White House and that region was growing then too…

  10. Modulo Myself says:

    I suspect that if Romney wins the popular and loses the electoral, there will be major insanity: immediate calls for impeachment, for retroactive annulment of the electoral college, for Obama to step down.

  11. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    I hope everyone kept their “Sore Loserman” signs.

  12. G.A. says:

    The Republican coalition is anti-urban, anti-immigrant, anti-GLBT, anti-government but pro sex-police–and if it dumps any of those planks you’ll see a third party split off.

    lol and the Democrat party is anti-Semitic, anti-logic, anti-math, anti-baby,anti-reality,anti-human,anti-coal.anti-sports,anti-bug spray, anti-truth, anti-God, anti-troop, anti-job, anti-black baby, anti-Oil, anti-Constitution, anti-flag, anti-Old, anti-Freedom,anti-razor,anti-holiday card,anti-vote once,anti-strait anti-Bacon, anti-big gulp, Anti-white. anti-rich,anti-industry.anti-education,anti-toilet paper and many of it are anti-soap…and if dumps any of these planks it will sill be a pack mob of goofy anti-American hypercretins.

  13. C. Clavin says:

    Polls from the last 24 hours

    PPP Obama +1
    Rasmussen Tied
    Reuters/Ipsos Obama +3
    IBD/TIPPP Obama +.5
    RAND Obama +5.7
    UCONN: Obama +3
    Gallup Romney +7

  14. Geek, Esq. says:

    @G.A.:

    Core GOP requirements:

    Must favor a ban on abortions
    Must oppose same-sex marriage
    Must immigrant bash
    Must favor deep cuts to safety net
    Must use code words like “welfare” and “food stamps” when discussing Democratic voters

    Mitt Romney is what passes for a moderate in that party, and he’s the most rightwing nominee in US electoral history.

  15. Scott says:

    @Geek, Esq.: Wasn’t it just last week that the right was complaining about the skewed polling and the left was just laughing at their inability to deal with reality? Now that the poll are going the other way, the same reaction is occurring on the left. As Nate Silver says, ignore the noise, daily twists and turns are meaningless.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Modulo Myself: Oh yeah. They have been thumping the drums for four years that Obama is somehow illegitimate despite clear victories in both the EC and the popular vote, and with long and short form birth certificates. “Take our country back!” He wins the EC and loses the popular vote it will get ugly. And pointing out that Dems behaved civilly after 2000, with much more provocation, won’t help a bit.

    If such a thing occurs, I would hope that Romney, Ryan, McConnell, Boehner, and the rest of Republican leadership would stand up, as Al Gore did in 2000, and help their partisans accept reality. I would hope for it. I wouldn’t bet much on the prospect.

  17. Geek, Esq. says:

    @Scott:

    Did you notice that every poll but one showed Obama ahead or tied. The polls are showing Obama inching ahead. Only the Gallup poll shows Romney ahead, and no one believes it.

  18. john personna says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    Current party identification is Democrat 35.0%, Independent 32.7%, Republican 27.5%

    My thought was that you abandon your extremists, and maybe pick up 2 points for every 1 you yield. It looks like you’d need to become a pretty moderate party to do that now. Of course the Dems have done that a bit.

  19. anjin-san says:

    the same reaction is occurring on the left

    The reaction I am seeing is that Gallup is regarded as an outlier, probably due to flawed methodology, and the majority of the polling data indicates a momentum shift back to Obama that started about a week ago and picked up steam after Obama’s decisive debate victory.

    That is quite a bit different from the unhinged ranting we have heard from the right. Another day, another false equivalence.

  20. C. Clavin says:

    Off-Topic…
    But Obama says Romney’s flip-flops and outright lies are caused by a condition….
    ROMNESIA
    I would say the entire Republican party suffers from it…they’ve all forgotten the disaster that was the Bush Administration.

  21. john personna says:

    (It is really interesting that there are slightly more independents than Republicans now, with that 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 split. And yet at the same time the national election is so close to 50:50)

  22. Geek, Esq. says:

    @john personna:

    How many non-extremists remain registered Republicans?

    For every James Joyner, there are about 10 Ralph Reeds and Joe Walsh’s.

    Moderate Mitt wants to turn Medicare into a voucher program. That’s 10 miles to the right of George W Bush or Ronald Reagan.

    Realistically, we have about 30% hardcore rightwing Falangists, about 15% conservative pragmatists, 10% squishy centrists, 30% moderate/vaguely liberal pragmatists, and about 15% hardcore liberals/leftists.

  23. Geek, Esq. says:

    @john personna:

    Republican brand is in the toilet, so many reliable Republican voters call themselves independents now.

  24. G.A. says:

    Must favor a ban on abortions-Good
    Must oppose same-sex marriage-Good
    Must immigrant bash-nonsense
    Must favor deep cuts to safety net-Good
    Must use code words like “welfare” and “food stamps” when discussing Democratic voters-silly.

  25. Raoul says:

    I wrote in this site six months ago that for Romney to win the EC he will need to win the popular vote by 2.5%-it ain’t going to happen.

  26. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The 2000 Election All Over Again?

    Possible. But not literally. What are the chances of a 500-vote margin in one state deciding the outcome? Not bloody likely.

    Regarding the popular vote-EC dichotomy, that too is quite possible. It doesn’t take a leap of mathematics to envision Obama losing the national vote but eeking out a very narrow win in the EC on the strength of a zombie apocalypse in Cuyahoga County or on the basis of Chicago-style politics in Las Vegas (behind the glitz there’s more than a hint of Tammany Hall) or in Milwaukee (a mini-Chicago).

    It’s a lot more difficult to envision Romney winning the EC without the national popular vote. To win the EC Romney absolutely needs OH. For the past 60 years the Republican’s vote percentage in OH met or exceeded his vote percentage nationally, save for the lone exception of the Goldwater wipeout, in which Goldwater in OH very slightly underperformed Goldwater nationwide. Ergo if Romney wins the presidency it’s overwhelmingly likely he will have won the popular vote too.

    To me it’s looking more and more that it’ll be a lot like ’04, but with the incumbent-challenger roles reversed.

  27. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Yikes, I just went totally dyslexic. OMG. It’s a lot less difficult to envision Romney winning the EC without the national vote. Because OH presumably will exceed his national vote total. More coffee, please.

  28. gVOR08 says:

    @anjin-san: If Obama’s getting a bump from the 2nd debate, he ought to soar after his victory at the Al Smith dinner last night. O has a career in standup after his second term.

  29. Curtis says:

    Dear G-d, I agree with Tsar. At least for a paragraph.

    2000 was a perfect storm in which the winner of the popular vote lost the election thanks to a state so close that it was basically beyond our ability to measure so that the electoral vote winner was unclear for several weeks.

    That seems much more unlikely than just having a split decision between the popular vote and the electoral college.

    Also, this split is totally different than the brokered convention. Under the modern primary system, there has been only one convention that borders on brokered – Carter and Kennedy, and even that I would call a stretch. The mechanics of the modern primary system make a brokered convention nearly impossible. On the other hand, there is a small but not insignificant – usually Silver has it at between 4 and 5 percent – of splitting the electoral of popular votes. A brokered convention is not even a 1 in a 1000 shot, in my opinion.

  30. KariQ says:

    @Scott:

    Wasn’t it just last week that the right was complaining about the skewed polling and the left was just laughing at their inability to deal with reality? Now that the poll are going the other way, the same reaction is occurring on the left. As Nate Silver says, ignore the noise, daily twists and turns are meaningless.

    The right was insisting that the polling results were all the productive of a vast conspiracy to trick everyone into believing that Romney had no chance so Republicans wouldn’t vote.

    Democrats are saying “Gee, this one poll doesn’t look anything like the rest of them. And it’s pretty screwy for a sitting president to have approval of 50% while losing by 6. Something must be wrong here.” And most (though not all) Democrats still just shrug their shoulders and accept the average including Gallup.

    Pretty big difference.

  31. sam says:

    @G.A.:

    Must favor deep cuts to safety net-Good

    You drawing unemployment these days, GA?

  32. MBunge says:

    And for all you conservatives out there…Gallup now has Romney up by 6, down from 7.

    OMG! ROMNEY’S LEAD IS COLLAPSING!

    Mike

  33. mantis says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    I think I need to recant my earlier belief that you are a concern troll. You may just be a fainting couch liberal who overreacted to Obama’s first debate performance. Just wanted to note that I think I was wrong there.

  34. Geek, Esq. says:

    @mantis:

    I’m like Gallup–oversensitive to daily developments and prone to volatility.

    But, man is it nice to have the last image of the President being the guy who put Romney in his place this week.

  35. Scott says:

    @Geek, Esq.: I’m one of the registered Republicans. Why? Primarily laziness. They make it just as hard to re-register as it is to register. Plus I enjoy getting the fake surveys from the RNC in the mail and voting the opposite of what they think I will. Either that or send the pre-paid envelope back empty. Childish? Sure.

    What you’re registered as has nothing to do with how you vote. In Texas, that even goes for the primaries.

    Seems to me, the polling outfits go about detemining party affiliation differently. Some ask for what party they think they are, some ask what you are registered as. Seems to me you can get different answers to those questions.

    As for me, early voting starts Monday. I will be taking my 18 year old daughter to the voting place for the first time. She is excited about that. I hope that excitement and enthusiasm holds for a long time.

  36. Dave Ruddell says:

    Of course, the best pure chaos result is an Electoral College tie, with President Romney and VP Biden. Especially if Biden casts the tie-breaking vote to elect himself.

  37. JohnMcC says:

    If by chance the Mr Romney wins the popular vote but loses in the Electoral College, he probably will have exceedsed his projected totals in some very important swing state. For the exercise, assume he eeks out a win in Pennsylvania. Remember the Pennsylvania court case involving voter IDs has not yet been decided in the Supreme Court. Imagine how long it will take before an injunction is sought by some Supreme or other to invalidate the Pennsylvania recounts. I bet the time would require a stop-watch not a calendar.

    Then it will indeed be 2000 all over again, with days of uncertainty and a President selected — not elected — by the margin of 5 to 4.

  38. JohnMcC says:

    @Dave Ruddell: Just to add a bit and take away a bit from your comment, Mr Ruddell, a tie in the EC is decided in the House of Representatives not the Senate. So it’s unlikely Mr Biden will have the opportunity to cast a deciding vote. Mr Ryan, however, would get the privilege of voting himself into the Vice Presidency.

  39. Stan says:

    @G.A.: As usual, the “Democrat” party will win around 70% of the Jewish vote. It’s sad the way that Jews don’t understand what G. A. sees as their best interests.

  40. anjin-san says:

    Wow.

    Salt Lake Tribune Endorses Obama
    The Salt Lake Tribune endorses President Obama over Mitt Romney, the candidate “we knew, or thought we knew, as one of us.”

    “Sadly, it is not the only Romney, as his campaign for the White House has made abundantly clear, first in his servile courtship of the tea party in order to win the nomination, and now as the party’s shape-shifting nominee. From his embrace of the party’s radical right wing, to subsequent portrayals of himself as a moderate champion of the middle class, Romney has raised the most frequently asked question of the campaign: ‘Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?'”

    http://politicalwire.com/archives/2012/10/19/salt_lake_tribune_endorses_obama.html

  41. Just Me says:

    I have believed for a while that Obama still has the advantage-mostly because he can write off a few states and focus on others while Romney doesn’t have the luxury of writing off any of the battleground states.

    I do think this election is going to be closer than 2008 with Romney getting more popular vote and more of the electoral votes, but I still think Obama has the edge although if Romney continues to trend up while Obama can’t really pull the undecideds his way, Romney might pull it off.

    I think in the end this election is going to end up close both popular vote and electoral which means it is possible for there to be a split.

  42. @john personna:

    I think there must be some dynamic where in a two party system each seeks just 50% plus a hair.

    It’s a game theory issue. Imagine there are two ice cream vendors on a beach, where everyone goes to the vendor who happens to be closest to them. Where should the vendors set up to maximize their sales? The answer is right next to each other at the midpoint of the beach. If a vendor moves their stand any place else, their competitor will move closer to them to poach some of their sales.

  43. Moosebreath says:

    @JohnMcC:

    “Remember the Pennsylvania court case involving voter IDs has not yet been decided in the Supreme Court.”

    The state elected not to appeal the order saying voter ID can’t be used in 2012’s election. Not that I am disagreeing with your ultimate conclusion that an election with a split between popular vote and the Electoral college will be decided 5-4 by the Supremes, but it won’t be for that reason.

  44. Sejanus says:

    @G.A.: You just confirmed my long held suspicions that your avatar is indeed also your personal photo.

  45. Laurence Bachmann says:

    @KRM: I wish I were so gracious and willing to take the high road. Personally I would love to see Charles Krauthheimer, Jennifer Ruben and Antonin Scalia stroke out over an Obama electoral win but popular vote lose. Make my day.

  46. Console says:

    It’s really hard for Romney to produce an electoral college victory without winning the popular vote. Mostly because the democratic firewall keeps getting bigger and bigger as demographics change. It’s gets harder and harder to run up the score in states like Texas. For Obama it’s possible. Hell, look at RCP. When Romney was in the lead, RCP still never showed Romney winning the electoral college on their “no-tossups” map.

    The point might end up being moot though as RCP actually has Obama back in the lead for the moment, at .1 (monday morning is going to be real telling).

  47. Dodd says:

    I don’t think it will be that close. But if it is, regardless of which of the two wins the EC and “wins” the PV, I promise I won’t be calling for the EC to be discarded.

  48. Let's Be Free says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Cite hardcore facts produced by the Federal Government and that’s a stereotype? LOL. Fascinating how the level of discourse drops when a lefty denies reality. I mean, the wealth bubble in and around the Washington Beltway couldn’t be attributable to the government largess, there must be a responsible video, somewhere.

  49. An Interested Party says:

    Cite hardcore facts produced by the Federal Government and that’s a stereotype?

    Fascinating how the level of discourse drops when a rightie has reading comprehension problems…my point was that the level of growth in the Washington D.C. area has been going on since long before the current President sat in the White House…

  50. Sam Penrose says:

    As both votes get closer, turnout becomes key. That means that partisan efforts to use the mechanisms of government to affect turnout are magnified. Here is my question for Doug: if I am an elections official, should I feel a positive obligation to help every American who wants to vote do so? Should I be neutral? Or should I feel comfortable using my office to hamper the voting of my opponents’ constituents? And furthermore, to what extent does the law allow us to choose either the second or third option?