Friday, October 26, 2012

In 2000 Democrats Were Mad About Florida And Bush v. Gore, Not The Electoral-Popular Split

With some chance of Romney winning the popular vote while Obama wins the electoral college people are speculating about a reverse of the 2000 outcomes. FiveThirtyEight puts the probability of this at 5.3%, with the opposite split at 1.9%, while old Bush political consultant Mark McKinnon says "it’s a 50/50 possibility — or more." (I have greater faith in Nate's numbers -- my guess is that Karen Tumulty's story just contains quotes from the people who think it's the most likely.)  Josh Marshall describes how "Democrats were crushed and outraged."

People rightly remember a lot of Democratic outrage after the 2000 results, but I worry that people are misremembering what exactly it was about. It wasn't really about the popular vote - EC split. Some people wanted to get rid of the electoral college (I still do; state boundaries are arbitrary and I see no good reason to use them in determining who wins a presidential election). But Democrats fully accepted the legitimacy of the electoral college for that election, on the general principle that those were just the rules of the game. Democrats weren't happy that things turned out as they did, but the general view wasn't that Bush was an illegitimate president because he didn't win a plurality of the popular vote.

The real reasons for outrage were in the nakedly partisan behavior of the Supreme Court, in trying to shut down further vote counting that might've given Gore the victory. You can read Scott Lemieux' 10-year retrospective for more on that. There was also a lot of frustration with the pre-election mischief of Katherine Harris and the Florida state government, which provided African-Americans with mistake-prone voting equipment and erroneously purged many of them from the voter rolls. There was also the weird business of the 'butterfly ballot' which confused enough elderly Jewish voters into voting for Pat Buchanan to swing the election. There was also Ralph Nader, though that's it's own issue.

In short, Democratic outrage after 2000 wasn't so much about the electoral college as it was about the sense that a plurality of Florida voters had gone to the polls trying to vote for Al Gore, and because of a variety of shenanigans the state had recorded a plurality of votes for George W. Bush.  The electoral college wasn't the thing.
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