FIVE
The Curious and Close
Presidential Campaign of 2000

James E. Campbell

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OF 2000 BETWEEN REPUBLICAN Governor George W. Bush of Texas and Democratic Vice President Al Gore was the closest presidential election in American history, and there have been a number of very close presidential contests. 1 In the twentieth century, there was the controversial Kennedy-Nixon election of 1960, the surprising come-from-behind victory of Truman over Dewey in 1948, as well as Wilson's razor-thin reelection over Hughes in 1916, the post-Watergate squeeker of 1976 and the turbulent Vietnam-era election of 1968. The later half of the nineteenth century also had several exceedingly close presidential contests, including the disputed Hayes-Tilden race of 1876 and the Cleveland-Blaine "rum, romanism, and rebellion" race of 1884.

Table 5.1 lists the closest presidential elections since 1828. They are ranked by the minimum vote change (as a percentage of the total national vote) that could have changed the election's electoral vote winner. In each of these elections, a change in one or more states of less than two-tenths of one percent of the national vote would have changed the election's result. The election of 2000 heads the list. A shift of fewer than a thousand votes in Florida, representing less than one-thousandth of one percent of votes cast nationwide, would have changed Florida's electoral votes and, thereby, the national electoral vote winner. Even beyond Florida, there were a half dozen other states decided by razor-thin margins.

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