2000 Presidential Election Closest in U.S. History

The National Public Accountant, December 2000 | Go to article overview

2000 Presidential Election Closest in U.S. History


There are two measures of Presidential elections. First is the popular vote and the second is the controlling question of Electoral College votes. The election of the United States President in the year 2000, in the totality, must be considered the closest ever.

The true measure of popular vote is the percentage of the number of votes separating the candidates to the total number cast. As of 1:00 p.m. EST on November 9, 2000, Vice President Gore led Governor Bush by 97,000 popular votes. That figure is less than 1/10 of 1% of the total number cast--over 100 million.

The Electoral College count stands at 262 for Vice President Gore and 258 for Governor Bush. Florida is likely to determine who will be inaugurated on January 20, 2001. Florida's 25 votes would raise Vice President Gore's total to 287 or Governor Bush's to 283. Mixing popular vote and Electoral College considerations offers the following analysis. As of 1:00 p.m. EST on November 9, Bush led in Florida by 300 votes, or roughly 1/3000th of 1% of the total votes cast nationally.

Add to these unbelievably close figures the fact that, as of today, it seems probable that for only the third time in U.S. history, the popular vote victor will lose the election in the Electoral College. A popular vote victory coupled with an Electoral College loss has occurred only twice. In 1888, Benjamin Harrison lost to Grover Cleveland--47.8% to 48.6%. Yet, Harrison carried the Electoral College handily, 233 to 168. In 1876 Rutherford Hayes lost the popular vote to Samuel J. Tilden--48.0% to 51.0%. Yet, Hayes prevailed in the Electoral College by one vote, 185 to 184.

A current split between popular and electoral vote outcomes is distinguished for at least two reasons. First, the 2000 popular vote is much closer than either the 1876 or the 1888 vote. By percentage, the split is 48.5% for Gore and 48.4% for Bush. Second, the 1876 and 1888 elections might be considered anomalies of the reconstruction and post- reconstruction periods.

The history of U.S. political parties in the late nineteenth century is one of polarization. Southern states voted decisively Democratic, yet the Electoral College was weighted to the north where Republicans won, but not nearly as decisively. This geographic character is absent from the 2000 contest. Bush carried states in all regions. Although he dominated in the south and mountain west, he also prevailed in individual states on the west coast, Midwest, in the Appalachians and the northeast.

It is certainly true that there have been closer finishes in the Electoral College. The U.S. House of Representatives was forced to decide two elections when no single candidate won the requisite majority of electoral votes. In 1800, Thomas Jefferson failed to win the minimum 139 Electoral College votes and was subsequently elected President by the U.S. House of Representatives. In fact, in 1800 there was a tie in the Electoral College votes with 73 going to both Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. …

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