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How Close Were US Presidential Elections?

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the squeakier-than-you-think dept.

United States 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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971 comments

Thanks from the reminder (5, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Linear programming? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164855)

Sorry pal, but that is what they teach in high school Algebra I/II classes as a stand-in for analytically solving equations. When my father was getting his MBA 25 years ago, everyone in one of his classes complained about having to learn a bit of calculus, so the instructor taught with linear programming instead.
 
That having been said, calculus is a much more useful tool, and people would take you more seriously if you used it.

Re:Thanks from the reminder (4, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164899)

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

Re:Thanks from the reminder (-1)

sbate (916441) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165011)

Excuse me I think we have won Iraq.. Our soldiers are cleaning up and handing over the leftover asses to the Iraqis. Marines - Travel Agents to Allah

Re:Thanks from the reminder (3, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165225)

I suppose we've 'won' Afghanistan too eh?

notice how that's all gone quiet? That's because it's not good news.

Re:Thanks from the reminder (5, Insightful)

Sique (173459) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165265)

There is this thing called Phyrric victory [wikipedia.org]. Spending U.S.$ 1.5 trillion to turn one of the most corrupt states of the world into one of the most corrupt states of the world, increasing at the same time the number of political motivated killings from an average of 10,000 per year to 25,000 per year, moving from a pretty secular and multi religious state into a very fundamentalistic islamic one... technically it was a victory, yes.

Re:Thanks from the reminder (0, Flamebait)

electrictroy (912290) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165043)

So Gore would have done what? Invited Bin Laden to come visit New York and observe the destruction? Come on! You know Gore would have reacted exactly the same way Bush acted, and the way Clinton acted before him..... with military action.

Re:Thanks from the reminder (5, Informative)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165099)

Gore would have known that Bin Laden was in Afghanistan/Pakistan, not Iraq.

Re:Thanks from the reminder (1, Troll)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165173)

So he would have invaded pakistan ? Now that would have been just peachy.

The next president will have to deal with peak oil, so whoever it is he's going to take many people's toys away. Whoever it is, we're not going to like him anymore in 2012 and true hate is going to surface before 2016.

We have a democrat congress, so shear damage control voting would be voting for McCain. Congress and the presidency in the hands of the same bunch of nitwits has always been disastrous.

At least when they both control parts "some" stupidities cancel eachother out. (or so I hope)

Re:Thanks from the reminder (4, Insightful)

famebait (450028) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165153)

Well, you see, there's this thing about military action: it's not all the same. It tends to actually matter who you attack, at what scale, with what goal, and with what strategy.

It is very possible that another leader would fuck up spectacularly too, but I have to believe that _most_ leaders would at least go after someone who actually had something to do with the attack.

Re:Thanks from the reminder (4, Insightful)

diersing (679767) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Thanks from the reminder (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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....

Re:Thanks from the reminder (2, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165139)

In Palin's defense, she has a really nice ass.

Re:Thanks from the reminder (0)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165213)

It's probably easy to go ahead and call you a sexist because of your comment, but I think that it does a great disservice to women to do so. There is nothing wrong with being attractive. Palin's attractiveness does not in any way diminish her abilities to govern nor does it negate her intelligence.

Her public comments, on the other hand, may not be helping her so much.

Vin Diesel Opines (1)

imstanny (722685) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165233)

"It doesn't matter if you win by an inch or a mile, winning is winning." - Vin Diesel "The Fast & the Furious"

How about (4, Insightful)

whereizben (702407) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164763)

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 (5, Informative)

electrictroy (912290) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165085)

"did not have enough ballots according to Florida legal standards (where hanging chads are called null votes).

Ahh, but that would have ignored "voter intent". That was the hook that Gore tried to hang his hat on - that votes should be counted if judges determined what the voter WANTED, rather than what the voter DID. That was also the root of his downfall - when David Boies stood there in front of God and Man and said "No, votes will not be counted in the same way in different parts of Florida" it was over. We can debate about whether the second part of the decision was legitimate, but my opinion is that a different ruling would still have resulted in a Bush Presidency.

Also, it's funny (or not) how Hillary Clinton agreed not to campaign in the Florida primary, but then was ALL ABOUT "voter intent" when it turned to her advantage.

Re:How about (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165217)

That sounds like soviet elections.

Besides the real conspiracy is against ME. First they ignore my application, which I put in the yellow bucket near my neighbours garage. I labeled it "express" so surely it couldn't have been late !

Then they ignore the voter's INTENT, which surely was to elect ME.

2 men in white clothes at the door ? Now who could that be ?

Re:How about (5, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

overvotes (1)

snsh (968808) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165117)

The recounts did indicate that if overvotes were counted (where the voter filled out a bubble for Al Gore, then wrote in 'Al Gore' again at the bottom, or had crossed out GWB's name), then Gore would have won. But, regardless of Florida law, Bush still would have won the election by 1 vote anyway.

Re:How about (5, Insightful)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:How about (3, Funny)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164909)

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 (1)

fotbr (855184) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165111)

At this point, who cares? There's no rewind button to back us up 4 or 8 years.

Side note: Why the hell do politicians think I want to be interrupted in the middle of dinner with an automated phone call attacking their opponent? And why do they think that pissing me off with that interruption is going to help them?

Re:How about (1)

conlaw (983784) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165113)

Oh well, the little witch who made sure that Bush won in Florida got her comeuppance when she tried to run for the US Senate and none of the Repblicans would support her. An object lesson in being honest, perhaps?

Re:How about (2, Informative)

goldspider (445116) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165147)

Right, and if the Gore campaign had succeeded in changing Florida election law in the middle of the election... blah blah blah.

Don't we have enough problems NOW to deal with NOW?

Re:How about (4, Insightful)

Trifthen (40989) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165203)

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.

Re:How about (4, Insightful)

Nobo (606465) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165249)

if you switched the vote, I have no doubt it would indeed have.

Why not double republican votes too while we're at it ?

Re:How about (5, Insightful)

AVee (557523) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165031)

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.

Doesn't really matter how many people (3, Insightful)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164767)

actually vote for a non-Republican, Diebold will give is the president that it thinks is best for us anyway.

99% off-topic question (2, Interesting)

Kagura (843695) | more than 5 years ago | (#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?

Re:99% off-topic question (4, Insightful)

RandoX (828285) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164809)

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

Re:99% off-topic question (3, Insightful)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164891)

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

You know, there was this guy I actually really liked. But it seems you can't be a candidate if you are too staunch a defender of freedom!

Re:99% off-topic question (1, Insightful)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165035)

No, you can be a candidate, you're just marginalized as a "crazy," or a "moon-bat," as in: "You think people ought to be more responsible for themselves? That's just crazy talk!"

Re:99% off-topic question (3, Insightful)

goldspider (445116) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165241)

Too many people don't want to be free anymore. They want to be taken care of. No good can come from that mindset.

Re:99% off-topic question (2, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164951)

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

Sad, but true.

We need instant run-off-voting. Voting should never about the 'lesser of two asshats'.

Re:99% off-topic question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25165039)

Please don't be so silly, vote for a change of faces and messages with a 3rd party... voting for the lesser of two evils, is still choosing evil...

Granted, voting a 3rd party might still be evil, but at least your increasing your choice of evil.

Re:99% off-topic question (2, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165181)

Aren't there more than two candidates?

How about just voting for the candidate you like better?

Maybe if 10% or even 20% of the voters did that, even if those candidates don't win, maybe the two parties will start swinging towards the direction those voters prefer.

Right now if > 99% of the voters vote for the two parties, the two parties can claim they are representing > 99% of the voters.

So you'd be voting for "Same Old Same Old" or "Hit Me Baby One More Time".

Re:99% off-topic question (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165255)

Or you can always "throw your vote away" on a 3rd party candidate that might actually represent your views.

Just had to "throw" that out there.

Re:99% off-topic question (3, Insightful)

93,000 (150453) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164837)

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

[/troll]

Re:99% off-topic question (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164921)

I object most vehemently to this characterization. Sarah Palin is one of the most well-spoken, articulate politicians I have ever heard, with a gentle yet incisive humor that deposits the positions of her opponents subtly, and yet surely, in the realm of the absurd.

But you don't need to take my word for it! Thanks to the marvels of teh intertubes, you can judge for yourself [cbsnews.com]!

Re:99% off-topic question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164965)

Damn straight. Cheney may be a real rat-bastard, but at least he's an intelligent one. Palins interviews are a complete embarrassment and they know it, hence the scarcity. The Reps should be universally ashamed to have her on the ticket.

Re:99% off-topic question (1)

pla (258480) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165251)

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

I don't know why you would consider that a troll... I really have no clue what people see in Palin - She has almost no qualifications; can't speak intelligently on any issues, whether political, economic, or even social (the ultimate soft-ball of "hard" questions); and even her home life (off-limits unless she brings it up yet again? BS!) looks like a disaster in the light of her own set of beliefs.

And the hypocrisy of the pundits... The same traits for which they blast Biden, they praise in Palin. Do they not even listen to themselves???

Fortunately, the VP has no actual responsibilities except to break ties in the senate, but still, it utterly astonishes me that she has helped McCain's campaign... God forbid he actually die in office, we'd end up looking back at Bush as an outright intellectual by comparison.

And for the fanboys of one party or the other - I consider both parties basically identical, just different masks on the same crooks.

Re:99% off-topic question (5, Interesting)

rthille (8526) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164893)

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'.

Re:99% off-topic question (3, Insightful)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:99% off-topic question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164913)

It's getting increasingly removed from focus on issues and more into dogmatism. The media has begun taking to promoting it's own agenda, but it does this by presenting the candidate they want you to choose in a positive light. The one they don't want you to vote for they speak of infrequently and always negative.

This has been going on as long as I have been alive, but every cycle gets worse.

Last election, beyond all other things that went wrong, Kerry lost out on more support because of focus on if he could catch a damned football. There were plenty of reasons for and against him as it were, but a damned football?

This election will probably go to Obama because of the "McBush" banter that disregards the fact that McCain was on Kerry's shortlist last round, and that McCain isn't well liked by his own party for being maverick enough to find middle ground.

So, in reiteration, the only real difference is that we have decreased emphasis on any actual substance and more media bias filtering what it presented to you. Otherwise it really is just business as usual.

Re:99% off-topic question (2, Insightful)

markhb (11721) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164917)

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:99% off-topic question (1)

electrictroy (912290) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164931)

No this one's different. Usually there's a clear winner of the Democratic primary by the end of February. Then the media circus dies-down and picks-up sometime in September. This year the circus just went on and on and on (and on).

Also it's pretty much standard for the TV media to fall-in love with the Democrat... Obama, Kerry, Gore... they all got treated with soft gloves and easy questions, because the television reporters are all liberals. RADIO media is usually the opposite (radio is conservative) with a preference for the Republican.

Re:99% off-topic question (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164991)

Usually, the press has a liberal bias but they're interested in scandals and the story dujour, so they focus on what sells. This time around, there's a more blatent pro-Obama skew in the press, and more blogs, partisan websites, and the need for immediacy that doesn't fit in well with an indepth look at the issues.

Re:99% off-topic question (1, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165019)

Vote 3rd party. I don't care who, just vote 3rd party.

Voting for the same shit in a different bag is throwing your vote away. A 3rd party vote is the only one that matters.

Re:99% off-topic question (1)

Tenebrousedge (1226584) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165053)

I'm 22, and I've been paying attention to the elections since 1996. I may be unusual in that regard, but I sure as hell hope not. Also, please tell me that you didn't actually vote in the last one, and preserve some of my illusions about the American voting public.

But in response to your question, the last election was pretty similar: Bush was running against Not-Bush, except last time Howard Dean was on hand to scare the living shit out of everyone. And there doesn't seem to have been any Swift Boating that I've heard of.

Re:99% off-topic question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25165059)

It will definitely go down as an historic election, regardless of who wins. America will either see it's first black president, or first female vice president.

For the most part though, the campaigns aren't that much different with two major exceptions:
* The Internet is playing a major role in this campaign. The 'blogosphere' if closely watched and frequently relayed through television, radio.
* The campaigns started very early. Two years ago any poli-junkie could have predicted that the democratic primary would have been between Clinton and Obama.

Even as a republican, I can say that it's also very interesting in the fact that a) the president has a very low approval rating, b) we're fighting two wars, both unpopular, and c) we're in the middle of a financial crisis. In this scenario, one would normally expect the Dem. nominee a slam dunk for election. If the democrats would have put up an experienced executive (a Governor, for example) or even Hillary my guess is that things would be much different.

The 'Bradley Effect' may play a major role in this election as well. Essentially that means that Barack can't feel comfortable without a ~7-15 point lead. Sad, but statistically true.

Re:99% off-topic question (2, Insightful)

jav1231 (539129) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165087)

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 way to go before we're united.

Re:99% off-topic question (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165131)

The level of insanity rises each time. You think it can't be topped, but it is.

Re:99% off-topic question (1)

DougF (1117261) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165169)

I'm 50 and I've voted in every presidential election since 1976. Besides the Reagan years, this is the easiest decision I've ever made...and no, I'm not going to say who will be my selection as my vote is my business.

Never changes (5, Insightful)

rodrigoandrade (713371) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164843)

Yes, this is exactly the point I take from it. There hasn't been a candidate that I actually wanted to win in... ever. In all cases the choices suck equally.

Re:Never changes (4, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165051)

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.

Importance of protecting the process (4, Interesting)

RichMan (8097) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

 

Re:Importance of protecting the process (1)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164875)

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.

Great, now that you've pointed out how valuable this information is in terms of identifying vulnerabilities in the system, the Dept. of Homeland Security (D'OHS) will take an interest in suppressing the information, lest it be used by terrorists to affect the outcome of the election.

Re:Importance of protecting the process (3, Informative)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#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!

Re:Importance of protecting the process (1)

electrictroy (912290) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164977)

Yes, but should a person vote if they know nothing (or almost-nothing) about the candidates? A lot of people seem to pick candidates randomly, like flipping a coin.

And if you're an incumbent legislator many people vote for you, purely because they don't want to vote for a stranger.

Re:Importance of protecting the process (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25165015)

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

I would've said it's the opposite - that this shows how many elections, statistically speaking, are ties.

If voting were science, I'd have to reject the vote as inconclusive if the vote tallies are less than two standard deviations apart. What this is saying is that so many election are decided by "noise", not because there is a clear preference for one candidate or the other.

But, voting isn't science. It's politics.

wrong way round (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165115)

Don't you mean - "these were the districts where the voting machines were hacked by a few hundred votes to give the required outcome"?

Some... (4, Insightful)

whisper_jeff (680366) | more than 5 years ago | (#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...

Who is DUKASIS? (3, Funny)

markhb (11721) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164833)

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:Who is DUKASIS? (2, Funny)

wcrowe (94389) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165069)

So, Bush 41 beat someone named "Dukasis"?

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

What is the error rate of voting machines? (2, Interesting)

xpuppykickerx (1290760) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164845)

How many votes of this 1% were miscounted by voting machines?

Re:What is the error rate of voting machines? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25164903)

Yeah, I'm sure that election fraud never happened until we got electronic voting machines.

Showing the value of a single vote. (2, Insightful)

ip_freely_2000 (577249) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

1836 election was interesting (3, Interesting)

Teese (89081) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

defectivebydesign (2, Interesting)

hobbit (5915) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164967)

It's time for electoral reform. As a precursor to that, I think reform of the media will be necessary.

I have a friend who's in political PR, and he tells me that my dream of "corrections in the media should be given equal billing to the original misinformation" (i.e. if you splash falsehoods onto the front page in big letters, you can't post your apology on page 79 column 5) will never happen: "never argue with someone who buys their ink in barrels". I think the very fact this truism is grounded in ink belies a 20th century mentality, but I don't know enough about the media to be able to judge whether he's right or not. Do any slashdot readers think a grassroots campaign to stop the media shooting first and asking questions later has legs?

Re:defectivebydesign (1)

gfxguy (98788) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165185)

While newspapers have always been partisan, they've also been better (although not perfect) about holding information until it could be verified or until a more appropriate time (they've actually kept state secrets... such as war plans, until after the event... not anymore).

But you know what? If newspapers have changed, it's because the voting public (voting with their money) has selected sensationalized news over accuracy, mundane news about American Idol winners over substantial news about decisions being made in congress.

Most of the things that we're blaming businesses for today are things we brought on ourselves by being cheap, lazy, inattentive instant gratifiers. No, maybe not you, but the bulk of the American population, who would spend $100 on a pair of sneakers or sunglasses over buying a book.

These companies are just giving "us" what "we" want.

2000, volusia county, FL. Al Gore -16000 votes. (0, Flamebait)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164979)

read up [wikipedia.org]

Al Gore actually won the 2000 popular election. Jeb Bush helped his brother cheat.

"Something very strange happened on election night to Deborah Tannenbaum, a Democratic Party official in Volusia County. At 10 p.m., she called the county elections department and learned that Al Gore was leading George W. Bush 83,000 votes to 62,000. But when she checked the county's Web site for an update half an hour later, she found a startling development: Gore's count had dropped by 16,000 votes, while an obscure Socialist candidate had picked up 10,000--all because of a single precinct with only 600 voters."

Re:2000, volusia county, FL. Al Gore -16000 votes. (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25165093)

Not quite, 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.

In 2000, 1 vote would have been enough... (5, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164985)

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

How often does the outcome matter? (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#25164989)

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.

Re:How often does the outcome matter? (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165197)

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.

It's too early, that second Iraq should be Afghanistan. But come to think about it, Afghanistan is starting to look a lot like a second Iraq...

Marketing is an Engineering Problem (5, Interesting)

Speare (84249) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165041)

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... (2, Interesting)

SystematicPsycho (456042) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Who got the most votes? (1, Redundant)

Per Abich (45614) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165095)

As I understand the US system, it only matters to win the state, not the mayority of the votes in total over the whole country. Would be interesting to know, how close it gets there...

What's the point of the Electoral College? (1)

benwiggy (1262536) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165129)

Can anyone explain to me the US Presidential voting system?
My understanding is:

1. The people vote for their candidate. The results are counted.
2. The Electoral College, whoever they are, decide the result.

Not trolling, I really don't understand it.

Less than Margin of Error = Recount! (2, Insightful)

Trifthen (40989) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165143)

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 (5, Interesting)

T.E.D. (34228) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

It has to be the right 269 votes though (2, Interesting)

winterphoenix (1246434) | more than 5 years ago | (#25165155)

I think the summary is misleading. It's not just a random 269 votes from all around the country that would have changed the outcome in 2000. 269 more votes for all gore in Pennsylvania wouldn't have done anything for Gore. I'm going to assume that the optimal 269 votes the story is referring to come from Florida, probably Miami-Dade. It's adding undue drama to the situation to say that 269 votes could have changed things. It's a very specific 269 votes from a very specific, and relatively small percentage of the population, that could have changed the outcome of the election.

What are the odds these were random? (4, Interesting)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Modern electoral process (4, Insightful)

spaceman375 (780812) | more than 5 years ago | (#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... (2, Insightful)

lar3ry (10905) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

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