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United States Government Politics

How Close Were US Presidential Elections? 971

Mike Sheppard writes "I'm a graduate student in Statistics at Michigan State University and spent some time analyzing past US presidential elections to determine how close they truly were. The mathematical procedures of Linear Programming and 0-1 Integer Programming were used to find the optimal solution to the question: 'What is the smallest number of total votes that need to be switched from one candidate to another, and from which states, to affect the outcome of the election?' Because of the way the popular and electoral votes interact, the outcome of the analysis had some surprising and intriguing results. For example, in 2004, 57,787 votes would have given us President Kerry; and in 2000, 269 votes would have given us President Gore. In all there have been 12 US Presidential elections that were decided by less than a 1% margin; meaning if less than 1% of the voters in certain states had changed their mind to the other candidate the outcome of the election would have been different."
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How Close Were US Presidential Elections?

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:16AM (#25164753)

    "269 votes would have given us President Gore"

    And eight years of being reminded of that sad fact can take a toll on a man's soul that can't be quantified.

    • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:29AM (#25164899)

      If the election had gone the other way 8 years ago, we wouldn't be in Iraq fighting an unwinnable war.

      • by diersing ( 679767 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:41AM (#25165065)
        True, but that doesn't mean the runner up would have done better. When provided with two shitty options, we'll always end up with shit.
        • by eclectic4 ( 665330 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @10:18AM (#25165563)
          It could have been worse? Statistically improbable...
          • by Rolgar ( 556636 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @11:17AM (#25166515)

            He didn't say worse, just not better which can mean about the same. Instead of being angry about invading Iraq, we might all be upset about Gore not being aggressive enough, Al Qaeda is still running free with a free run of south Asia, and maybe even managed to land a few more attacks on US soil. Then who knows what sort of cowboy war hawk we would have elected in 2004.

            Sure, you might lose some of Bush's failures if he hadn't been the sitting president on Sept. 11, 2001, but you also might not have some of his successes.

            • by innerweb ( 721995 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @12:12PM (#25167363)

              The problem with Iraq is that the war was/is based on lies. Lies about WMD, about ties to Al Quaeda, lies about oil and more. The problem is Bush lied to the people and has used those lies to line the pockets of corporate friends at the expense of the American public's financial well being and the Iraqi people's lives and well being. Maybe Iraq will become a better country in the future, but this mess has been about as poorly handled as it could have been at the executive level.

              I believe (but can not know) that Gore would have focused on the real issue in Afghanistan. I believe Gore would have focused on reducing national debt, not increasing it. I believe we would mostly be better off if Gore had been elected. All except Gore and many of the wealthiest Americans.


        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 26, 2008 @10:50AM (#25166125)

          Welcome to fan psychology.
          Because your candidate was terrible and you were told how terrible he would be before you voted for him. You are now partially responsible for his actions. So logically the other candidate had to have been equally bad.
          In the 2000 race Bush was already known bad, even terrible, a hypocrite extraordinaire. Gore was known to be BORING. These are not the same. While the Neocons waged their standard slimy smear campaign the Dems sat there and turned the other cheek. Good God, how do you lose against a cocaine junkie? These days Neocons and stupid people still believe the lies.. AL Gore said he invented the internet!

          TLDR: Just because you supported the worst president in history doesn't mean that other guy was just as bad. E.G. you liked the guy who has killed more than a million innocent people VS that peace prize winner guy.

      • by Beefaroni ( 1229886 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:59AM (#25165313)
        Clinton / Gore were banging the WMD drum loudly all through the 1990's. Iraq's invasion was going to happen since Serbia was seen as a victory. in 1998 Clinton signed a bill to free Iraq. the argument was never over the war but over what party was going to skim off the top of the war funding in my opinion. the Dems seized control of the Congress in 2006 and could have cut off funding - we are still in Iraq. you do not maintain air supremacy over a nation for 12 years (no fly zone enforcement) and not invade. we strangled Saddam economically, softened him up and rolled his forces, and tossed him onto the ash heap of history. anybody that has any war history under their belts knows there will always be an insurgency to put down after a nation goes down - see also the Werewolves in post WWII Germany. the reason they were defeated so easily is that era of warfare did not have its hands bound by political correctness, instantaneous digital media coverage, and a bunch of spineless wimps in Congress. Ike suppressed the media, blasted the Nazi remnants out of the hills, and prosecuted any that were involved via military tribunal. it is ugly nasty work, that is why it was called a war.
        • by orcus ( 21207 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @11:34AM (#25166783) Homepage Journal

          the Dems seized control of the Congress in 2006 and could have cut off funding - we are still in Iraq

          I am so SICK of people pointing to the Democrats in congress and complaining that they alone have not turned things around.
          People have to remember that it takes a 2/3 majority to make a bill VETO proof - and with the very slim majority the Democrats have in
          congress currently, they need support from Republicans. Unfortunately, the Republicans are in virtual lockstep with the current administration
          so of course they opposed the Democrats every chance they get - and then laugh at them for not being able to change things.

          Until the people either elect a Democratic 2/3 majority and/or a Democratic President, things are not going to change.

          Personally, I would prefer a congress controlled (2/3's) by one party, and the administration controlled by the opposing.
          In that situation, the two sides would HAVE to work together - and we'd have true checks and balances.
          (Ok - so maybe not a 2/3's - but close - so the majority party in congress could not simply ignore the president)

          Having congress in perfect lockstep with the president (circa pre-2006) allows government to run TOO efficiently - and efficient governments
          tend to run roughshod over the populace.

          Oh - and it is also not helpful that a lot of people have been deluded that if you are not for the war - then you are anti-american.
          I believe the best way to support our troops (a tired cliche that means whatever the person saying it wants it to) is to bring them home safe NOW and let the cesspool fend for itself.

          • by tmosley ( 996283 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @12:51PM (#25167927)
            Think again. All the Democrats had to do was block the spending bills that contained money for Iraq. All that is needed for that is a simple majority, and you can't veto what doesn't get to your desk. Had they done that, it would have FORCED Bush to the table, and they could have FORCED him to withdraw from Iraq.

            Imagine that, going back to the way things were supposed to be (wars requiring a Declaration of War from Congress), rather than the President simply being able to jump on a plane and invade any country he wants under false pretenses.
          • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @12:57PM (#25167989) Homepage Journal
            It's not that simple. True, you need a supermajority in the Senate to do anything against the will of the minority. However, you don't even need a majority to stop something. Cutting off funds for the war falls under the category of stopping.

            The problem was this was a huge game of chicken against a player who is proven to be extremely reckless. There's a good chance that Bush would simply have attempted to muddle through, counting on the inevitable disaster to get Congress to open the purse strings.
        • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <william@chuang.gmail@com> on Friday September 26, 2008 @11:44AM (#25166927) Homepage

          Even if Gore would have unilaterally invaded Iraq without seeking a world-wide consensus first, do you think that he would have invaded with a woefully inadequately-sized force that could not secure the peace? Do you think he would have disbanded the Iraqi police and military after seizing power, so that you'll have hundreds of thousands of jobless men trained to use weapons? Do you think he would have de-Baathed Iraq so that all the doctors and schoolteachers lost their jobs because you had to swear allegiance to the Baath party in order to have any important job? Do you think he wouldn't have had a plan set up to rebuild Iraq promptly and restore order so that it wouldn't devolve into a clusterfuck of neglect and lawlessness?

          I think any sane person fighting a war would have done all of those things. Gore would have; Bush did not. Even assuming everything you said, Bush winning the election was a terrible tragedy for this country.

          And there's reason to believe that the narrow gaps in the elections were not mistakes. According to tools we use to monitor the validity of foreign elections, the 2004 election was rigged. [rollingstone.com] It may be the case that 269 votes was NOT the difference after all.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:37AM (#25164997)

      I'm still mad at the Republicans for not running McCain back in 2000. I think we'd be in a MUCH different situation with either Gore or McCain - that's before McCain was taken over by that pod person that's occupying his body now.

      *GRMUBLING* Passing over Christine Whitman for that dingbat from Alaska....

    • by Ed Avis ( 5917 ) <ed@membled.com> on Friday September 26, 2008 @11:35AM (#25166789) Homepage

      Yes, 289 is the _smallest_ number of voters that could be switched to change the result of the election. But that gives a misleading picture of how close it was. You should also consider the largest number of voters that could switch without changing the result: that is several million votes (for example, Texas voted for Bush; switch 24.999% of the votes Texas cast to Bush to Gore, and the result does not change). In other words huge numbers of people (outside Florida and other swing states) could have decided to vote for Gore (or Nader) instead of Bush and it wouldn't have made the slightest difference.

      Perhaps the fairest measure of the closeness of an election is: what is the smallest number N of votes such that if you picked N individual votes at random across the whole country and flipped them, there is more than a 50% probability that the result would change?

    • by catmistake ( 814204 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @02:13PM (#25169027) Journal

      Its pretty clear in hindsight that had all the ballots been counted in FL, even not counting the loose chad ballots, but including the absentee ballots (that for no reason weren't counted) and letting that one county of old folks that incorrectly used the butterfly ballots revote, that Gore won FL by about 20,000 votes. At election time, the Republicans really begin to play dirty, and Democrats, for all their befuddlement, are generally not dishonest (maybe to a fault). The FL Republicans and the SCOTUS stole that election. Gore should hold his head high, there is no shame in being boned out of an election.

  • How about (Score:4, Insightful)

    by whereizben ( 702407 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:17AM (#25164763) Journal
    If 269 votes had been counted that weren't, and they were for Gore, it all would have been different. This is a good reason to not stop recounts from going forward...
    • Re:How about (Score:5, Informative)

      by electrictroy ( 912290 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:26AM (#25164853)

      Actually, MANY recounts were performed. One by USA Today, one by Washington Post, another by Wall street Journal, and so on.

      They all agreed that Gore simply did not have enough ballots according to Florida legal standards (where hanging chads are called null votes). They all agreed that Bush won Florida State.

      • Re:How about (Score:5, Informative)

        by mbone ( 558574 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:43AM (#25165109)

        First, they weren't official recounts.

        Second, they showed that if there been a full statewide recount of all counties, Al Gore would have received more votes than Bush.

        It is true that that is not what Al Gore's campaign was asking for, but there it is.

        And that is before you get into the whole voter list mess, which undoubtedly rejected thousands of legitimate Democratic voters, but was not a recount issue.

      • Re:How about (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:50AM (#25165189)

        Hanging chad? So the voting technology is so terrible that an elderly person who votes for Gore has a good chance of not pressing hard enough (parkisons, arthritis, weakness is a bitch you know) and thus nullifying their vote. I dont expect this kind of thing to happen in fist world countries. I think its pretty obvious what a hanging chad means. Tossing it out is borderline voting fraud.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Waffle Iron ( 339739 )

          It makes you wonder how history might have been different if one particular die in a stamping machine at some paper plant had been just a little sharper.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      How about if Bush's campaign chair in Florida weren't put in charge of that states recount? How about if George W. Bush's corrupt brother Jeb weren't the governor of that state? How about if that lying cheating sonofabitch didn't steal the election?

      Go ahead, Republicans, use your mod point! Strike me down! I will only grow more powerful!

      • Re:How about (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Trifthen ( 40989 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:51AM (#25165203) Homepage

        And that's just it. Ideally, any election would be run by an impartial third party, which is effectively impossible in the highly charged and partisan atmosphere encouraged by our system. I would be much more at ease if another country like Sweden stepped in to control the whole thing, just because theoretically they're less likely to attempt outright subversion of the process.

        Or hell, at least someone less partial than one of the candidate's relatives. Fuck, even McDonalds has sweepstakes rules that employees and family members can't win prizes for similar reasons. Are we saying our elections are less important than McDonalds sweepstakes? Maybe not, but our actions sure are.

      • by FiloEleven ( 602040 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @10:57AM (#25166233)

        Go ahead, Republicans, use your mod point! Strike me down! I will only grow more powerful!

        More powerful will you grow, hmm, only when the truth you realize: Republican, Democrat, both to the Dark Side have fallen.

    • Re:How about (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Nobo ( 606465 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:39AM (#25165021)
      Your math is wrong. 269 votes switched is not the same as not counted, because a switched vote would have both lowered the vote for the Republicans and raised the vote for the Democrats. If it was truly votes not counted, you need to double that number to get the same effect.
    • Re:How about (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AVee ( 557523 ) <slashdot AT avee DOT org> on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:39AM (#25165031) Homepage
      If 269 votes make such a big difference there is a good reason to change the system. Such a small group of people should not have such a big influence on what happens in a country. That is, when you are serious about being a democracy. Really, these are all just symptoms of a bigger problem.
      • Re:How about (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mikael ( 484 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:59AM (#25165309)

        The simplest solution is to make it a legal requirement for everyone to vote, and to provide a "none-of-the-above" for those who can't make a choice (otherwise they would just spoil their voting paper anyway).

        It happens anywhere there is an election. There will always be "safe seats" where the population will always vote for one party (rich wealthy areas vote for the "lower taxes for rich people" party, and the low income areas vote for the "tax the middle classes for social services" party. In the end, the party campaigners only go after the swing seats where there is no outright majority for any party. Changing election boundaries might be one way of solving this, but low income areas tend to have a higher housing density and so have a smaller catchment area.

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:17AM (#25164767) Homepage Journal
    actually vote for a non-Republican, Diebold will give is the president that it thinks is best for us anyway.
  • by Kagura ( 843695 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:18AM (#25164777)
    I'm 22, and this is the first presidential election I've ever actually even listened to. Can somebody who is 26 or older tell me, is there anything different about this election than the last one, or does it pretty much run this same route every time? i.e. is media focus the same, before and after the primaries, and so on?
    • by RandoX ( 828285 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:21AM (#25164809)

      Same thing. Different pair of liars. Vote for the one you dislike the least.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 93,000 ( 150453 )

      The republican VP candidate is usually smarter than this year. Not necessarily 'better', mind you, but usually at least allowed to speak in public.


    • by rthille ( 8526 ) <web-slashdot@ranga[ ]rg ['t.o' in gap]> on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:29AM (#25164893) Homepage Journal

      I'm turning 41 in a week, and this is the 2nd election I listened to...even in 2000, while I 'listened' enough to make up my mind, I didn't think politics was really important. Even the Florida recount didn't seem to matter that much to me, I figured "how much more then the other one can one of these bozos screw things up?" After 9/11 and the other insane government fuckups of the first Bush administration, I got more involved. I figured there'd be no way 2004 would re-elect Bush, so I didn't donate too much or work too hard. Sure Kerry was wooden, but after the first debate my vote changed from "Anyone but Bush" to "Kerry, the guy who could articulate an intelligent position" (even if he could ramble on for days :)

      Now in 2008 I'm working in a local campaign, donating money to Obama and Al Franken.

      For an interesting picture about how much having the wrong guy at the top matters, read 'State of Denial'.

    • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:29AM (#25164895)
      The only thing really different is the internet and availability of information. Previously, we had the TV networks, newspapers and radio. And that was pretty much it.
      Now, with so many avenues of info, there is a lot to choose from. Sadly, a lot of people only go to those sources which simply reinforce what they already believe.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by markhb ( 11721 )

      This one started even earlier than usual, and the primary schedule (Iowa and New Hampshire excepted) tends to change every 4 years as states jockey for position. Other than that, and of course the particular candidates and issues in play, it's about the same.

      One word of advice: vote for the candidate whose judgment in a crisis you trust most. Whatever they are promising will be so hacked by Congress that it usually doesn't matter in the long run. MHO, YMMV.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jav1231 ( 539129 )
      The last 4 or so have been the worse. Elections are bringing out the worst in Americans, in my opinion. Gone are the days of agreeing to disagree, understanding compromise, accepting the fact that your friend might just vote the other way. Now it's war. It's getting to the point where you just don't bring it up in polite conversation. Yes, to an extent it's always been thus but peruse Slashdot and any other discussion board and you'll see people nearly advocating the death of the other side. We have a long
    • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:57AM (#25165293)

      The "cool kids" will, of course, tell you that everything is the same, everything sucks, and you should give up on trying to make a positive change in any part of your life or any part of your country.

      Those people are dead wrong. Thats what they said about Gore and Bush, and I think its pretty obvious that a Gore presidency would have been 100% better for America. Dont give in to mindless peer-pressured apathy.

    • by scubamage ( 727538 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @10:07AM (#25165421)
      "Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil." - Jerry Garcia

      Do your research and vote for the candidate you like most, major parties be damned. You'll hear people tell you, "a vote for a third party is a vote for (whichever candidate they don't like)." This is not true, and is the very thing which keeps us locked in a two party system.

      Vote with the person who seems intelligent, and qualified to lead. Not the one who uses amorphous taglines like, "hope," "change," and "new America" (this isn't a slight against Obama, however he is using these words with very few actual moves towards any real genuine change in politics - on slashdot this is more evident than most places).

      Finally, its your vote. Don't get bought, sold, or caught up in rhetoric. You are an intelligent person. To quote yet another musician, "There is a war being waged for your mind. If you are thinking, you are winning."

  • Never changes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rodrigoandrade ( 713371 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:20AM (#25164793)
    <blockquote>In all there have been 12 US Presidential elections that were decided by less than a 1% margin; meaning if less than 1% of the voters in certain states had changed their mind to the other candidate the outcome of the election would have been different."</blokquote>

    Maybe these small margins indicate why things never change in politics. Nice work.
    • Re:Never changes (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:40AM (#25165051) Homepage

      It's an almost textbook example of optimization theory - assume there's two ice cream booths on a beach [0..1] with a uniform distribution of guests, now the optimal for the beach guests would having them at 1/4 and 3/4, but then each could steal customers by moving towards the center. End result you got two booths right next to each other in the middle, each serving half the guests. As long as any other booths can't enter (winner takes it all-system) that situation is stable. Any disturbance like the guest moving over to one side of the beach because it got better sun in the afternoon and the dividing line will move, again leaving half on each side. If you want clearer objective proof that having 40% of the votes it useless in the US, this is it. The politicians must redefine their politics so they're fighting for the majority, rather than stay true to anything.

  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:21AM (#25164801)

    This shows how easy it would be to swing the election should one hack the voting in a few districts. The analysis can be used to show the regions to focus on.

    This shows the importance of maintaining an open and audit able process if the system is to be protected from manipulation.

    It also shows the importance of every vote and in protecting the rights of all to be able to cast their vote.


    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:32AM (#25164939)

      Also shows the effect independent candidates can have. Also, if I'm not mistaken, it shows that if the voting process was direct (i.e. popular vote decides of the outcome) elections would depend on much more people, and in more than in a few keys states.

      Of course I am biased for being French, but ever since 1962 we chose our president based on popular vote, and what's best, we have two elections, one with the shitload of "independents" in the mix, and a second one with only the two winners from the first election, which solves the problem of the nasty influence that Ralph Nader and the likes have, while still giving them all the room they deserve in the debate.

      Actually in France all candidates get equal air time, which means you'd get to hear Ron Paul, Bob Barr or Ralph Nader speak on TV as much as Barack Obama or that cop from Die Hard, John McClane. God I can't believe we could have that guy from president, that's just too awesome!

  • Some... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:24AM (#25164829)
    Some would contend (and I have difficulty disagreeing) that, in 2000, 269 votes still wouldn't have given us President Gore - it would have just given us 269 more rejected ballots...
  • by markhb ( 11721 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:24AM (#25164833) Journal

    So, Bush 41 beat someone named "Dukasis"?

    The maps are the best part, as you can see which parts of the country provided the closest margins. It's also interesting that, in 1976, Hawaii had a smaller number of votes needed to flip it than Delaware (Hawaii is generally considered safely Democratic).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by wcrowe ( 94389 )

      So, Bush 41 beat someone named "Dukasis"?

      I think that just illustrates one of Governor Dukakis' chief problems in that election. ;-)

  • Put another way... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by saleenS281 ( 859657 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:27AM (#25164871) Homepage
    McAfee anti-virus software decided our president...
  • by ip_freely_2000 ( 577249 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:33AM (#25164943)

    Assuming the stats are true, it means Slashdot can determine the outcome of the election. Scary! :)

    It also means that you should all make the effort to vote and be happy with the outcome or know that you have the right to bitch about the outcome because you voted for the other guy.

    Efforts like "Rock the Vote" to raise awareness really are worthwhile. If you haven't voted lately, please do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by goldspider ( 445116 )

      "Efforts like "Rock the Vote" to raise awareness really are worthwhile. If you haven't voted lately, please do."

      I have to take issue with that. I tend towards "If you can't bother to educate yourself on the candidates' platforms and make an informed choice, please leave that responsibility to those who will."

      Too much is at stake to let these elections be decided by party-line or single-issue voters.

  • by Teese ( 89081 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `lezeeb'> on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:33AM (#25164947)
    from the article (sourced from wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

    "It was the only race in which a major political party intentionally ran several presidential candidates. The Whigs ran three different candidates in different regions of the country, hoping that each would be popular enough to defeat Democratic standard-bearer Martin Van Buren in their respective areas. The House of Representatives could then decide between the competing Whig candidates. This strategy failed: Van Buren won a majority of the electoral vote and became President."

    So, not trying to win, but make your opponent lose, and force the tie-breaker where the rules are in your favor. Very interesting strategy, I don't know if it was good or bad that it failed. I don't remember the Whig platform.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:36AM (#25164985)

    there were only 9 votes that counted, and switching 1 would have done it.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:36AM (#25164989) Journal

    The fact that so many elections are so close seems to indicate that 'the people' don't have a strong preference for one candidate over another. Why? Because their policies are often nearly indistinguishable.

    Look at this election for instance. Even on the issue of withdrawing from Iraq, both candidates plan to withdraw troops from Iraq based on conditions on the ground, and send them into Iraq. Neither of these candidates are going to stand up against this upcoming bank welfare bill. Even the candidate for "change" has voted with the Bush administration to protect telecoms from consequences for their illegal spying on Americans. And yet, people seem to think that this is "the most important election of our time". Bullshit.

    So yeah 1% might swing the outcome of an election, but it's going to take more than 1% to cause any sort of real change. You might as well flip a coin, you'll get a 50/50 split that way too.

  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:40AM (#25165041) Homepage Journal

    I have said in the past (since before 2000) that the very strong trend toward fifty-fifty splits between rivals only proves that Marketing is now an Engineering Problem.

    To explain: all endeavors start as artforms, like "the tuning of these newfangled carburetors is a bit of a black art." Then you understand the general system well enough to call it a science, "we have found that if we measure the fuel mixture, we maximize combustion." Once the system is known very well, it is an engineering problem: "an electronic system monitors the mixture and adjusts for different conditions on the fly."

    Just as the cola wars are in a well-settled detente, the business of national politics is a marketing endeavor. Whether you're Demopublican or Replicratic, whether you're a Preservative or a Libertine, your party system will simply apply the art, nee, the science, nee, the engineering methodology to ensure the candidates do the best they can. Of course, both sides have effectively infinite resources so the marketing comes out equal, and the course of history witnesses Gore/Bush 2000, too many 5-4 decisions to count, a roughly 50-51 Senate, and a dynamic but well-balanced electoral college.

    We seem to be deadlocked into a 50%/50% world, regardless of the actual merits. Marketing is simply engineering the "choices" we have, and equally effectively on "both" sides of just about every political issue.

  • As close as... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SystematicPsycho ( 456042 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:40AM (#25165061)

    This thread is bound to get political so here goes, as long as you can say you're anti-abortion and anti-gay you pretty much have most of the southern states wrapped up thanks to the Evangelical Christians.

  • by Trifthen ( 40989 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:45AM (#25165143) Homepage

    I don't really understand this about US (or possibly any other) election system. In science, the margin of error for measurements being taken, or due to inherent flaws in a mechanism used gets quoted and becomes part of the results. If the margin of error is too large, results are inconclusive. Can we really vouch for any president elected by votes well within the margin of error for the combined effect of disparate tallying systems, vendors, and human fallibility? Has any system in the country ever been more accurate than 1% margin of error—or some ridiculous amount like 269 votes?

    Seems unlikely.

  • Designed that way (Score:5, Interesting)

    by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:46AM (#25165149)

    A "feature" (probably unintended) of the design of the Electoral College system is that most elections look like more of a blowout than they were. In theory, if someone manages to consistently get 50.5% in every state, they could win every state and the public will be told the next morning about the victor's huge landslide victory.

    That's why after the 2000 election the Reps floated around those red state/blue state US maps with such glee. It made a squeaker look like a huge victory. (For a better picture, see the University of Michagan [umich.edu] , which use some cartiographical tricks to adjust for population).
    A better illustration are Regan's victories. Everyone knows Regan clobbered Carter and Mondale, right? Well, the true answer is not really, and sorta respectively. The electoral college turned his %50.7 victory in 1980 into a %86 state victory, and his %58.8 victory in 1984 into a %94 state victory.

    It has been argued that this effect is actually good for the country, as it gives presidents more legitimacy from their elections.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:46AM (#25165157)
    OK, we have some instances of small fluctuations causing major effects. Rather than just sitting back and says "wow, that was close", the next stage is to calculate the possibility of these events being statistically random.
  • by spaceman375 ( 780812 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:52AM (#25165223)
    If the results of the vote are within statistical error (which is a LOT bigger than 269 votes), the election should be thrown out and run again. Plain science; the kind that politicians will never allow. They'll claim that would be too confusing for most voters. That is, thay'll say we are in the aggregate too stupid. SOME people may be, but most of us aren't. We are, however, too apathetic. The election in 2000 was blatantly rigged, yet the populace just grumbled. I guess I'll move to canada. The US government has been hijacked.
  • Seriously... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lar3ry ( 10905 ) on Friday September 26, 2008 @09:53AM (#25165235)

    I live in a state that went Republican in 2000, and I realized afterward that if a thousand or so additional people voted for Gore, then the whole Florida recount issue would have been moot.

    That is the example that I give to people nowadays that say, "I don't bother to vote. I mean, there are millions of people. My vote doesn't count."

    If you don't vote, then you shouldn't complain when the you don't like the results of the election.

I use technology in order to hate it more properly. -- Nam June Paik