2000 Presidential Election Research Paper

“The American people have spoken,” said President Bill Clinton shortly after Election Day. “It’s too bad it’s going to take a little while to determine what it was they had to say.” (BBC News)

On the morning of November 8, 2000, Americans across the country awoke to reports that there was no apparent winner of the Presidential election held the day before. Vice President Al Gore and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman headed the Democratic ticket. Texas Governor George Bush and former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney headed the slate for the Republicans. In the final days leading up to the election, polls showed Bush and Gore running neck and neck, too close to call. Confounding the situation was the attractiveness of third party candidates such as Ralph Nader of the Green Party and Patrick Buchanan’s Reform Party. The outcome from election night certainly promised to be quite riveting. And they were. For weeks after the election, the question of who would be the next President of the United States was uncertain. The 2000 presidential election resulted in the strangest and most mystifying vote count in American history. The election’s closeness, combined with the aftermath of bitter partisan politics has left a legacy of controversy. At the center of the dispute was the state of Florida, and most notably Palm Beach County. After more than a month of recounts, lawsuits, and court decisions, the Supreme Court of the United States rendered a decision on December 12 that ended the process of vote recounting and brought the election, but not the debate, to a close. The following report details and analyzes several key events that transpired over the thirty-six days since the American public went to the voting booth in the presidential election of 2000.

The networks and cable news outlets started forecasting winners of individual states by7pm Eastern Standard Time. Vermont was first, with the exit polls showing the state securely being for Gore. Other states were rapidly called for one side or the other, including Florida into Gore’s camp. As always, the news outlets had promised, not to call an election until all of the polls in a certain state had all closed – one problem in Florida is that part of the panhandle is in the Central time zone, and when Florida was called, some polls were still open (Sammon). John R. Lott, Jr., a senior research scholar at Yale University Law School stated, “By prematurely declaring Gore the winner shortly before polls had closed in Florida’s conservative western panhandle, the media ended up suppressing the Republican vote”. Lott concluded Bush’s loss at a “conservative estimate of 10,000 votes”. (Sammon). As the night wore on, the networks started to equivocate on Florida – though polling stats showed Gore ahead, actual returns were beginning to show George Bush with the advantage. The networks that had originally called Florida in Gore’s favor now recalled their early decision, and moved it back into the undecided column by 10:00 PM. The electoral count was all even at 242 votes apiece. Only Florida’s 25 electoral votes were still undecided. Finally, at 2:15 AM, seemingly the Florida vote had swung in Bush’s direction. All the networks and cable stations declared Bush the winner of Florida, and the next President of theUnited States! Shortly after this, Vice- President Al Gore spoke with George Bush and conceded the election to him. However, before Gore publicly gave his concession speech, Bush’s lead began to wane, at one point down to only 200 votes. Gore’s advisors told him that it was too close, and Gore had to call Bush to rescind his concession. Once again, the news stations flip-flopped; taking Florida out of Bush’s column and placing it back into the undecided group (US Constitution Online).

Out of almost six million people who had cast their ballots, Bush ended up with an advantage of 1700 votes. Results that are that close in margin are subjected to a recount byFlorida state law. (US Constitution Online)

The Democrats decided to pursue the courts to mandate vote recounts in counties where aberrations in ballot counting was alleged. Expressly, the Democrats were concerned about the failure to count votes where ballots were punched halfway through to indicate a candidate choice, hence the infamous “hanging chads”. Democrats also grumbled that perplexity over the “butterfly ballot” used in Palm Beach and Dade Counties caused many Gore-Lieberman supporters to mistakenly vote in the wrong column due to the confusing ballot layout. It should be noted that Theresa LePore, a Democrat, designed the “butterfly ballot” (NNDB) (See Figure 1). It was also approved by leaders from both political parties. Sample ballots were both mailed to registered voters and appeared in various Palm Beach County newspapers. This so-called butterfly ballot design was the source of complaints by many, mostly seniors, that the ballot was confusing and charges that the design caused an abnormally high number of votes for Buchanan in Palm BeachCounty (Sammon). It is interesting to note that Pat Buchanan received approximately 8,000 votes in the 1996 Presidential election in Palm Beach County, compared to the 3400 votes he received in 2000 (Butterfly Ballot Cost Gore the Whitehouse).

Swift recounts promptly followed Election Day, and in doing so the final vote tally changed from a surplus of over 1700 votes for Bush to one of just over 300 votes. In Palm BeachCounty, 19,000 ballots were found to be flawed and were rejected. There was a call for a revote by many Floridians (US Constitution Online). A revote in Florida, however, would be detrimental to our nation’s democracy. Such an unprecedented event would produce instability and would undermine the electoral process. A chain reaction can erupt; state after state issuing re-votes due to voter irregularities. Intimidation at the ballot box would be ever more prevalent. Citizens would be rushing to the polls and those that knew the holes in the system had the ability to circumvent proper identification, illegally voting multiple times. It would have been reminiscent of a modern day “Bleeding Kansas.” But on November 20, 2000, the motion for a revote was denied. The Gore campaign began to demand court hearings on the issue of allowing the manual recount of votes to commence. Gore declared he wanted every vote cast to be counted. (American Presidency Project)

As the recounts activated, the nation watched and waited. With such a small margin of victory, anything could happen. Different balloting methods were examined and called into question, including one done by punching perforated holes out of ballot cards.

The Florida controversy sparked interest in other states that began presenting incongruities. For example, election managers in New Mexico uncovered a programming glitch that launched Bush into the lead. The margins were so slight that a recount had been ordered. At times, only four votes separated the two candidates until another glitch had been discovered assuring Gore’s victory of New Mexico. Both camps kept close watch on other states that might warrant recounts such as Oregon and Ohio-crucial states that could turn the tide of the election to either candidate (US Constitution Online).

One key component that overwhelmed the Florida controversy had been the irregularities over the absentee ballots. Overseas absentee ballots suddenly became supremely important and contentious. Florida, by law, did not finish counting them until November 17. With several thousand ballots sent out, and more coming back all the time, they could make for a decisive win one way or the other. Gore’s camp sought to invalidate over 25,000 absentee ballots in counties that were held heavily by Republicans. Gore’s lawyers claimed that many of the absentee ballot forms were incorrectly filled out and had been illegally completed by election managers. Two separate lawsuits developed—one in Martin County and the other in Seminole county (Kasindorf).After several failures in lower courts, Gore appealed and the Florida Supreme Court accepted the cases. However, the state Supreme Court dealt the final blow by supporting Circuit Judge Terry Lewis who was quoted saying:

Despite the irregularities, the sanctity of the ballot and the integrity of the election were not affected. (Kasindorf)

Both the Martin and Seminole County lawsuits had been defeated, posing a large threat to the success of Gore’s campaign (Kasindorf). The valiant behind the scenes efforts by Al Gore and his advisors to suppress the military vote because a postmaster failed to adequately postmark their ballots seems highly hypocritical of his pronunciations that he wanted every vote to count. In aNovember 27, 2000 speech, Gore declared, “ignoring votes means ignoring democracy”. Gore’s aspiration to sound righteous and magnanimous may have scored some points with his most ardent supporters. His partisan followers enthusiastically accepted his charge that George W. Bush was afraid of a straightforward recount. But Gore’s relentless attempts to keep the military votes from being counted render his argument as somewhat specious. A five-page memo from the Gore organization spelled out specific directions to Democrats in every Florida county on how to protest military ballots on technicalities (NewsMax). Then they dispatched attorneys to the counting courts around the state to challenge each vote with the sole and deliberate intent of disenfranchising as many as possible of our young men and women in uniform.

Gore often stated that it is the intent of the voter that is important. Yet in the case of the overseas military ballots, in which there is very little question about the intent of the voters, he insisted they were illegitimate if they lacked a postmark, even though the armed forces mail does not require postage and is often not postmarked (NewsMax).

Disenfranchisement of Black voters became a heated issue during the 36 day melee. Gore’s campaign, backed by black leaders such as Jesse Jackson, spouted accusations that a million African Americans were stripped of their right to vote in Florida. Other allegations included voter intimidation and harassment. The Republicans responded calling the accusations outrageous and irrational. Gore attempted to counteract opposing arguments by stating that there had been an increase of “spoiled” or “tainted” ballots (Kirsanow). However, by examining statistics of previous elections, the obvious is revealed—there is no anomaly among the number of spoiled votes. In fact, the percent of invalidated ballots nationwide is between two and three percent;Florida had three percent—no surprise there. Only four years earlier, it had been 2.5 percent. Furthermore, the entire state of Florida contained 125,000 discounted votes while the city ofChicago mustered 174,000. A six month investigation undertaken by the US Commission of Civil Rights discovered no evidence whatsoever of any unusual or unexpected violations of the 15thamendment (Kirsanow). Yet again, Gore was shut down and forced to seek other avenues to win the Sunshine state.

The Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris bolstered by a Florida Supreme Court ruling insisted all certified election returns must be in to her office by 5:00 PM on November 14, 2000 (by Florida statute, one week following the election). In the certified returns, Bush held a 300-vote lead (US Constitution Online).

The controversy however continued to simmer around two crucial points in Florida. The first issue centered on the legality of some counties performing a manual recount of ballots. The second point was in regards to the legality of the Florida Secretary of State to reject the recount totals after the statutory deadline had passed. Several counties were counting ballots by hand, aided by a brief ruling from the Florida Supreme Court that said they could proceed (US Constitution Online). However, the left-leaning Florida Supreme Court failed to acknowledge the issue regarding the rejection of recount numbers that missed the deadline. Bush’s lawyers worked fervently to establish their point of view; manual recounts were prone to human error and deliberate tampering. The Democrats replied by stating that hand recounts were the only way to ensure accurate numbers. Despite the fact that the Florida Supreme court ruled in favor of the Democrats, Bush’s lead increased to 930 votes statewide, essentially due to his commanding advantage in overseas absentee ballots. Regardless, many counties pressed on with their manual recounts (US Constitution Online).

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified George W. Bush the winner ofFlorida’s 25 electoral votes on November 26th. Palm Beach County failed to finish counting ballots before the deadline and tried to send in partial recounts while pleading for additional time. Secretary Harris denied both the partial recounts and the request for more time. Palm BeachCounty’s previous recount submission was used in its place. The Florida statewide vote 2,912,790 for Bush to 2,912,253 for Gore, or a difference of 537 votes was certified (CBS Election Results Chart) (See Figure 3).

The Bush camp was elated, while the Gore camp was angered, mostly on the subject of the disallowing of the Palm Beach recounts. They were not quite ready to throw in the towel. After several more failed attempts in various county courts to continue the recounts, it now came down to the Florida Supreme Court. It was now Friday, December 8th and the fateful day of December 12th was looming on the horizon. That is the date set by United States law for electors to be appointed from each state. Most legal experts agreed that the date was inflexible. The Florida Legislature prepared arrangements to conduct a special session to select those electors if the situation was not resolved by the deadline (US Constitution Online).

The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments from both the Bush and Gore organizations on November 20th. The Gore side hammered away that there is no rush to the certification of the election, since US law states that electors do not need to be appointed until December 12 giving the counties that desired to do recounts plenty of time for their completion. The Bush side contended that the more time that goes by, the greater the probability for fraud in the recount system. They also contended that the deadlines for counts and recounts are purposely laid out inFlorida statutes; and that the courts cannot trample on the inherent rights and responsibilities of the executive branch to carry out the certification of the election complying with the law that was approved by the legislature (US Constitution Online). For nearly two days, the Court considered the matter. The Court did rule on November 21st ordering the Florida Secretary of State to receive returns from counties doing recounts, however a deadline of no later than 5 p.m. on November 26th was put in place. The Court did not address the important issue of the countability of the ballots. The date chosen by the Court was designed to allow ample time for manual recounts to be finished, and to allow ample time for either candidate to protest the results under Florida law, and still meet the December 12th date set in US law for the appointment of electors.

In an astonishing decision, the Florida Supreme Court with a 4-3 split vote, ruled that all undervotes in the entire state would have to be recounted. The recount was to begin immediately. However Gore’s victory came to a screeching halt the very next day as the United States Supreme Court stepped in and stopped all recounts with a 5-4 ruling. They called for hearings to be held on December 11th, on the constitutionality of the Florida Supreme Court’s ordering of the recount. The U.S. Supreme Court convened on the morning of the 11th. Bush’s attorneys requested the court to uphold its stay of the recounts. It called the Florida Supreme Court’s recounting scheme “arbitrary, capricious, unequal, and standardless,” and a violation of the Article 2 powers of the state legislature to decide how electors are to be chosen. The Gore camp reiterated that the Florida Court was following the laws granted by the Florida legislature, and pressed the U.S. Supreme Court to decide quickly so that counting could be finished before the December 12th deadline for selection of electors (The United States Supreme Court).

On December 12th, the Florida legislature could wait no longer. The house voted 79-41 to affirm the Bush slate of electors to ensure that Florida was to be represented in the Electoral College (US Constitution Online).

At 10 PM, the United States Supreme Court rendered what were to be the final decisions on the 2000 Presidential election. The first ruling was a 7-2 vote that stated the Florida Supreme Court had erred when it called for a statewide manual recount. In a close but hardly unusual 5-4 vote, it declared that the counting of the undervotes only amounted to a violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause (The United States Supreme Court). It did state that Gore could utilize other remedies, but it could not include a recount. Essentially that meant the election battle was finally over. The next day Al Gore addressed the nation, accepted the decision of the US Supreme Court, and pleaded with the country to unite behind our next President-George Bush.

A close look at the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States reveals the incisiveness of the ruling. The Supreme Court noted that 2% of persons voting in Presidential election across the nation did not register vote for President, either deliberately or by a voter error. The Court did specifically state in their opinion of the ruling:

In certifying election results, the votes eligible for inclusion in the certification are the votes meeting the properly established legal requirements. (The United States Supreme Court)

It is evident that the Court was clearly referring to the process of the Punch Card ballot machine that may reject incomplete or incorrectly punched ballots. The Supreme Court’s decision predominantly centered on the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The Court correctly viewed the Florida Supreme Court as having set new standards for resolving Presidential contests. Specifically, they chastised the State Supreme Court in a multitude of ways, all leading to violation of the Equal Protection Clause. They cited the fact that the State Supreme Court allowed votes to be recounted with varying standards to determine what a legal vote is. In fact,Broward County had a much more lenient standard of acceptance of a tainted ballot than that ofPalm Beach County. This would result in an uneven voting process certainly violating the Equal Protection Clause (The United States Supreme Court).

In addition, The Florida Supreme Court’s decision provided no guarantee that the recounts included in a final certification must be complete. The acceptance of partial recounts being included was a problem for the US Supreme Court:

The press of time does not diminish the constitutional concern. A desire for speed is not a general excuse for ignoring equal protection guarantees. (TheUnited States Supreme Court)

Once again, The Supreme Court issued a correct ruling in not permitting partial vote tallies from counties to be certified. Furthermore, The US Supreme Court had a problem with actually who would perform the recounting of the votes. They were concerned that ad hoc teams of judges with no specific training in analyzing ballots would be interpreting the ballots. They also had issues that while some judges would be there from an observer status, they did not have the right to object to the proceeding. It is clear that the process ordered by the Florida Supreme Court does not meet the necessary minimal requirements to protect the individual voter in this extraordinary statewide recount (The United States Supreme Court).

The most compelling portion of the United States Supreme Court ruling focuses on interpreting the intent of the voter. Since much of the controversy surrounded the ballot cards, the interpretation to discern the true intent of the voter punching the ballot needed to be performed. The Florida Supreme Court had ordered the intent of those ballots be ascertained. Again, the US Supreme Court precisely shot down the lower Court’s ruling by stating:

The problem inheres in the absence of specific standards to ensure its equal application. The formulation of uniform rules to determine intent based on these recurring circumstances is practicable and, we conclude, necessary. (United States Supreme Court)

As we know, there were no specific standards in place and certainly, there was not nearly enough time to agree on a statewide basis to implement new standards. Also, as earlier stated the lack of time does not trump constitutional guarantees. Without the necessary standards, the Supreme Court had many issues on potentially unqualified individuals making determinations on voter intent by looking at scratches and holes on a cardboard piece of paper. The Court further went on to explain that the lack of uniform rules could produce variances in not only from one county to another, but indeed from within the same county as well. They provided an example of a witness who testified that he saw three members from the Miami-Dade canvassing board applying three different standards in recounting the votes. Also, in Palm Beach County they had started with a 1990 standard used for recounting, then changed that guideline, only to go back to the 1990 standard again and finally abandoning any true standard. It is obvious that the United States Supreme Court’s problems with the violations of the Equal Protection Clause are valid. The Court declared:

The right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise. Equal protection applies as well to the manner of its exercise. Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another. (United StatesSupreme Court)

The Court found that the State did not have in place the “necessary safeguards” to ensure equal protection. The United States Supreme Court found that the State Supreme Court in ordering a statewide remedy did not provide assurance that “rudimentary requirements of equal treatment and fundamental fairness are satisfied.” Thus, the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court was reversed.

The US Supreme Court’s overturning the State Court’s ruling amounted to a judicial spanking. The entire makeup of the Florida Supreme Court consisted of Democrat judges. Throughout the entire 36-day controversy, it is quite clear that they had acted more out of partisan motives than providing constitutional protections. It is argued that the US Supreme Court also voted in a partisan block. However, the preciseness of their well thought out conclusion, repudiates that argument. The United States Supreme Court is made up of conservatives, liberals and moderates. It is important to remember that the US Supreme Court voted 7-2 that there are constitutional problems with the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court ruling. The closer 5-4 vote was in the decision to halt the recount, because there was not sufficient time to put into place the necessary procedures to ensure the constitutionality of the recounts.

The presidential Election of 2000 has taught us valuable lessons for future contests. This election produced the rarity that George Bush, the declared winner, actually received a lower popular vote tally than his adversary, Al Gore. However, the “rules of the game” state that the next President is based on receiving a minimum of 270 electoral votes. There has been much contention from the left regarding this issue. But the rules cannot be changed once the game starts or when it is over. This argument has no substance whatsoever. Furthermore, it is quite interesting that although Bush did lose the popular vote, he overwhelmingly won the plurality of counties throughout the country (See Figure 2). Evidently, there were major tribulations with this election, and there is plenty of blame to allocate. A good portion of the blame goes to an overzealous media whose main concern is to beat out the competition, regardless of the facts. Partisan hacks on all sides, who routinely ignore right and wrong for the sake of winning. This was no longer about campaigning; it was about whom won the election, yet partisan supporters discounted what was fair and right. State legislatures nationwide need to analyze ways to improve the mechanisms and machinery for voting. When people who hold death certificates vote on Election Day, it is obvious that there is something wrong with the system. It is imperative that universal ballot standards be implemented throughout the country and national identification cards be issued. These two measures alone can substantially reduce voter fraud and confusion. Opponents to these two proposals need a reality check. Voting methods must evolve and improve in order to prevent another fiasco like the one we experienced six years ago. Yes, this was a fiasco, but it also showed that with all the flaws that we have detailed, our system still works.The founding fathers would be proud that the checks and balances they put in place have succeeded in ways that they may even have envisioned. Of course, we have a bunch of tweaking and perfecting to do, and if we are on the right track, we still will need some tweaking and perfecting two centuries from now.

Figure 3 (CBS Election Results Chart)

Presidential CandidateVote TotalPctParty
George W. Bush(W)2,912,79048.850Republican
Al Gore2,912,25348.841Democratic
Ralph Nader97,4211.633Green
Patrick J. Buchanan17,4120.292Reform
Harry Browne16,1020.270Libertarian
John Hagelin2,2740.038Natural Law/Reform
Howard Phillips1,3780.023Constitution
Source: CBS News State Results for Election 2000


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BBC News. The Clinton Presidency – in Quotes. 15 Jan. 2001. 3 June 2006<http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/1114491.stm>.

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Butterfly Ballot Cost Gore the Whitehouse. 3/11/2001. CNN. 4 Jun 2006<http://www.newsweekeducation.com/extras/images/butterfly_ballot.jpg>.

CBS Election Results. 5 Jun 2006 .

Election Popular Vote. 5 Jun 2006 .

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Kirsanow, Peter. Running on Urban Mythology. 12 July 2004. 3 June 2006<http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/kirsanow200407120824.asp>.

NewsMax. How Gore Cheated American Troops Serving Overseas. 9 May 2001. 1 June 2006<http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories/s1119.htm>.

NNDB. Theresa LePore. 2006. 2 June 2006 <http://www.nndb.com/people/236/000059059/>.

Sammon, Bill. At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election. Washington, DC.: Regnery Publishing, 2001.

The United States Supreme Court. Legal Information Institute’s Focus on Election of 2000.. 1 June 2006 <http://www.law.cornell.edu/background/election/>.

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The 2000 Presidential Election: Why Gore Lost


Political Science Quarterly, Summer 2001, volume 116, issue 2, page 201


The presidential election of 2000 stands at best as a paradox, at worst as a scandal, of American democracy. Democrat Albert Gore won the most votes, a half million more than his Republican opponent George W. Bush, but lost the presidency in the electoral college by a count of 271-267. Even this count was suspect, dependent on the tally in Florida, where many minority voters were denied the vote, ballots were confusing, and recounts were mishandled and manipulated. The choice of their leader came not from the citizens of the nation, but from lawyers battling for five weeks. The final decision was made not by 105 million voters, but by a 5-4 majority of the unelected U.S. Supreme Court, issuing a tainted and partisan verdict.

That decision ended the presidential contest, and George W. Bush now heads the conservative restoration to power, buttressed by thin party control of both houses of Congress. The election of 2000, however, will not fade. It encapsulates the political forces shaping the United States at the end of the twentieth century. Its controversial results will affect the nation for many years of the new era.


The Geography of the Vote

Not only two candidates, but virtually two nations confronted each other in the election of 2000. While Gore and Bush received essentially identical support in the total popular vote, they drew this support from very different constituencies. The electoral map (Figure 1) illustrates the cleavage. In carrying the preponderance of states (30), Bush changed the landscape of American politics. He swept the interior of the nation, including great swaths of the nation's territory in the South, Border, Plains, and Mountain areas. Gore won in only 20 states (and the District of Columbia), almost all on the geographical fringes of the nation--bordering the Atlantic Ocean (north of the Potomac), the Pacific Ocean, and the Great Lakes.

Reflecting the sharp geographical divisions, which are detailed in the Appendix, the vote varied considerably among the nation's regions and states. While Gore won as much as two-thirds of the votes in New England, he won fewer than one in three in the Mountain states. These differences among the states were considerably more marked than in recent contests. [1]

The ballots also revealed a rare instance of the conflict between "big states" and "small states" that had been feared by the framers of the Constitution. [2] Gore almost won because he carried six of the nine largest states, an advantage of 165 to 78, while Bush carried thirteen of the nineteen smallest, a 54-23 lead. The Texan's dominance in these small states exactly compensated for his loss of the single largest state, California. Even though he accumulated a million fewer votes than Gore (as well as a smaller plurality) in the combined totals of these states, the inherent tilt of the electoral college toward the smaller states brought a draw in this particular matchup.

The geographical pattern of party support in 2000 was quite similar to that seen in recent elections, a correlation of .94 with the 1996 results. [3] Gore's support among the states was quite similar to that of Clinton--but it was critically smaller across the nation, a median loss of 5 percent. State size aside, the source of Bush's victory was his success in moving eleven states--including Gore's Tennessee and Clinton's Arkansas--that had supported the previous Democratic ticket into the Republican column, adding 112 electoral votes.

The close national division was reflected in some of the states. A shift of merely a quarter of 1 percent of state votes--an infinitesimal national total of 17,000 ballots nationally--would have reversed 55 electoral votes from five states (Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin). Only in these close states, particularly Florida, did votes for the minor candidacies of Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan make a difference--but there they were still an immense influence.

Nader and his Green party won merely 3 percent (2,830,900) of the national vote, far below the 5 percent required to receive federal financial support in the future (his principal goal), even less than the support won by Ross Perot as a third-party candidate in 1996 (8 percent) and 1992 (19 percent), and vastly less than the extravagant attention Nader had attracted in the press. Buchanan did far worse, gaining less than half a million votes (.4390), even though he had over $12 million in federal money, inherited from the Reform party previously headed by Perot.

Despite their small numbers, Nader's and Buchanan's supporters provided the margin of victory for Bush. If Nader had not been on the ballot, Gore would have carried Florida and all of the other close states easily, giving him a comfortable electoral total of at least 292. [4] If Buchanan had not been a candidate, the Florida ballot might have been simpler to understand, giving Gore enough votes to win the national election simply by carrying the Sunshine State. Even without Florida, we might speculate--but cannot demonstrate--that an election without Nader would have enabled Gore to campaign in other winnable states (most obviously Tennessee and New Hampshire) and overcome his shortfall of only three electoral votes.

Parties and the Vote

The geography of the election reflected a changing pattern of party loyalties. As the nation endured this odd election at the beginning of the new millennium, major changes in the character of its political parties also emerged.

Two major divisions had structured American presidential elections for much of the twentieth century. [5] During the middle of the century, Democrats dominated, building successive victories on economic and welfare issues and on the heritage of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. The major controversies between the parties centered on the role of the national government, particularly its distribution of taxes and benefits--such as jobs, Social Security, and health care--among different groups. Democrats won all but two presidential elections from 1932 to 1964, assembling a winning coalition of lower-income voters, Catholics, union members, blacks, and white southerners.

During the latter third of the century, new issues and new coalitions came to the fore. Cleavages on issues of race, morality, and lifestyle developed alongside the previous divisions on economic and welfare policy. The parties differed on such issues as civil rights and affirmative action, abortion, women's role in society, crime, and school prayer. Republicans reversed the previous pattern of presidential elections, winning five of the six contests from 1968 to 1988, assembling a different winning coalition composed of higher-income voters, white Protestants from both the North and the South, religious conservatives, and defecting Catholics and union members. Even when Democrats won--in 1976 and in the two Clinton candidacies-their victories were unconvincing.

The election of 2000 merged or obliterated many of these divisions. During the Clinton years, Democrats overcame their losing reputation on moralistic issues, as Clinton became identified with such stands as harsh treatment of criminals (including support for the death penalty) and welfare reform. The president maintained his popularity even after revelation of his sexual immorality, as seen in the failure of the Republican effort to impeach and remove him from office.

In 2000 Republicans also moved away from previous unattractive positions. On the economic dimension, no longer opposed to all government programs, the party under Governor Bush proposed new policies to improve education, expand health care, and add funds and programs to Social Security and Medicare. Still conservative, the Bush Republicans now modified their ideology by proclaiming a new "compassionate" outlook and reduced their emphasis on moral issues, particularly abortion. Without overt change in his pro-life stance, George W. Bush gave only fleeting attention to the previously divisive issue, promising no more than a ban on unpopular and rare late-term ("partial birth") abortions.

Differences remained significant, but the election campaign was notable for the similarity of the issues stressed by the candidates and for the disappearance of older conflicts. A generation earlier, in 1972, Republicans had accused Democrats of favoring "acid, amnesty, and abortion"; that bitter campaign would be later remembered for Richard Nixon's efforts to destroy his opponents and subvert the Constitution in the Watergate break-in.

The old controversies were gone or had become consensual policies. Drug usage was condemned, and abortion was ignored. Vietnam, the conflict that had defined a generation and its lifestyle, was now a country to be visited by Clinton, once a draft resister and now the U.S. commander-in-chief. Emblematic of the change was that the Democratic party, once the arena for the greatest antiwar protests, nominated Gore, a volunteer who had actually served briefly in the war zone, while the Republicans nominated Bush, who had found a safe billet in the Texas Air National Guard.

There remained a basic philosophic difference between the parties and their leaders. Republicans' instincts still led them first to seek solutions through private actions or through the marketplace, while Democrats consistently looked for government solutions. That difference was evident in such fundamental questions as allocation of the windfall surpluses in the federal budget: Bush sought a huge across-the-board cut in taxes, while Gore proposed a panoply of new government programs and tax cuts targeted for specific policy purposes.

Similar differences could be seen on other issues emphasized during the campaign. To improve education, Bush relied on state programs and testing, while hinting at his support for government vouchers that parents might use for private-school tuition; Gore proposed new federal programs to recruit teachers and rebuild schools. To provide funds for Social Security, Bush proposed that individuals invest part of their tax payments in private investment accounts, while Gore would transfer other governmental funds into the Social Security trust fund. This philosophical difference could be seen even in the most intimate matters, such as teenage pregnancy, where Republicans relied on individual morality, namely, sexual abstinence by adolescents, while Democrats supported sex education programs, which might include distribution of condoms in public schools.

By 2000 the parties' supporters had become philosophically coherent as well. Fewer than one of every thirteen Republicans considered themselves liberals, and fewer than one in eight Democrats were conservatives. Voters also responded to the ideological difference between the parties: four out of five self-identified liberals voted Democratic, and the same proportion of conservatives voted Republican, often giving greater weight to ideological preference than to traditional party loyalty (see Table 1). The partisan contest of 2000 was also an ideological conflict.

Social Forces and the Vote

In addition to geographical and party differences, the American electorate was polarized along social lines, as detailed in Table 1. [6] These cleavages can be seen in the difference in the Gore vote between the following paired groups (the first group being more Democratic):

  • the poor and the rich, a 14-point difference;
  • single and married people, 13 points;
  • working women and homemakers, 14 points;
  • gays and straights, 23 points;
  • nonbelievers and frequent churchgoers, 25 points;
  • Catholics and white Protestants, 15 points;
  • Jews and white Christians, 40 points;
  • other voters and the religious right, 36 points;
  • residents of large cities and rural areas, 34 points;
  • high school dropouts and college graduates, 14 points; and
  • union members and nonmembers, 18 points.

Only age, of the major social categories, did not show significant differences between groups. [7] In 2000 the United States was not united.

Most prominent, although unfortunately not novel, was the "racial gap" between blacks' support for Gore and whites' for Bush (a 48-percentage-point difference in the vote of the two races). While the white vote for Gore was similar to that for Clinton, African-American support for the Republican candidate was lower than in any election since the 1960s.

Bush had made some efforts to gain more minority votes, giving blacks prominent roles in the party convention and arguing that some of his programs, such as educational testing, would particularly benefit this group. These appeals turned out to be fruitless, however, given the Republican's conservative position on welfare issues and affirmative action. Black groups, such as the N.A.A.C.P., mounted a multimillion-dollar campaign to increase minority turnout, expecting that the mobilized voters would be Democrats. Although the black proportion of the electorate remained essentially unchanged at 10 percent, these efforts probably were decisive in close northern states. It would require more than televised black faces to win black votes for the Republicans.

Other ethnic minorities also supported the Democrats. Both parties paid special attention to Latinos, knowing that they would soon be the largest nonwhite group in the population and that they already comprised a significant voting bloc in critical states such as California, Texas, and Florida. Despite Bush's command of Spanish and past Hispanic backing in Texas, the Republican fell short, prevailing only among Cuban Americans in Florida. Two-thirds of Latinos voted for Gore, a proportion similar to that won by Clinton. In a possible portent of the future, Asian Americans, still a small group among voters, changed to a pro-Democratic vote from 1996, when a plurality voted for Dole.

In recent elections, much attention has been paid to the differing attitudes and votes of women and men, the vaunted "gender gap" That gap should not be exaggerated, because much of the difference can be explained simply as a reflection of party loyalties--both sexes overwhelmingly voted for the candidate of their preferred party. Democratic women and men both voted for Gore (by 87 percent and 85 percent), just as Republican women and men both voted for Bush (by 90 percent and 92 percent). Sex differences became significant only among Independents, where Gore led by 12 points among women, offset by Bush's 9-point lead among men.

Still, the gender gap was evident again, but different from the past, in the presidential vote of 2000. While Bush won 53 percent among men, he gained only 43 percent among women. Gore's opposite advantage among women (54 percent to 42 percent) was insufficient to overcome the Texas governor. This "gap" between the sexes was the largest difference in the twenty years since it first became apparent.

The Bush advantage was even greater among whites. White women divided their vote evenly between Bush and Gore, eliminating any net effect on the total vote. White men voted 5-3 in favor of Bush. This Republican strength among white males was the overwhelming gender influence in the election, probably gaining Bush a net advantage of over 4 million votes. [8]

An explanation for this difference is not easy to find. The simplest reason would be issues with particular impact on one sex or another, with abortion the most obvious possibility. But there is almost no difference between men and women on their "pro-choice" or "pro-life" attitudes. Moreover, although attitudes on abortion were mirrored well in the vote, that issue was actually of very little importance in this election campaign.

Issues may have produced the large gender gap in more subtle ways. Gore's policy agenda was a more "female" agenda, in a political rather than biological sense: the vice president focused on questions likely to be of more concern to women because of their social situation. The social reality in the United States is that women bear a greater responsibility for children's education and for health care of their families and parents, and that women constitute a disproportionate number of the aged. This reality was reflected in political concerns, as women saw education, health care, and Medicare as the principal issues of the election. [9] For these reasons, Gore's greater readiness to use government to solve these problems might appeal particularly to women.

A gender gap has two sides, however, and in 2000 it reflected men's preferences even more than women's. Bush's appeal, too, can be found in particular issues. The social reality is that men are more likely to be the principal source of family income and to assume greater responsibility for family finances. This reality was again mirrored in issue emphases, with men making the state of the economy and taxes their leading priorities, with defense and Social Security of lesser importance.

The gender difference in issue focus was the foundation of gender difference in the vote. Gore was favored among voters who emphasized the "female" issues of health care (an advantage of 31 percent), education (8 percent), and Social Security (18 percent), and Medicare (21 percent). But Bush was favored far more strongly on taxes (a huge advantage of 63 percent) and on world affairs and defense (14 percent), as well as on lesser issues that brought male attention, such as the stereotypically gendered issue of gun ownership.


The presidential race should have been a runaway, according to precampaign estimates. In the end, to be sure, the outcome came down to miscounting or manipulation of the last few ballots. Analytically, however, the puzzling question is why Gore did so badly, not why Bush won.

The economy, usually the largest influence on voters, had evidenced the longest period of prosperity in American history, over a period virtually identical with the Democratic administration. A second predictor, the popularity of the incumbent president, also pointed to a Gore victory, for President Clinton was holding to 60-percent approval of his job performance. In elaborate analyses just as the campaign formally began on Labor Day, academic experts unanimously predicted a Gore victory. Their only disagreements came on the size of his expected victory, with predictions of Gore's majority ranging from 51 to 60 percent of the two-party popular vote. [10]

The academic models failed. It is simpler to explain Clinton's inability to transfer his popularity to his selected successor. Vice presidents always labor under a burden of appearing less capable than the sitting chief executive, and there is a normal inclination on the part of the electorate to seek a change. Previous incumbent vice presidents, such as the original George Bush in 1988 and Richard Nixon in 1960, had borne this burden in their own White House campaigns, but Gore's burden was even heavier, because he needed to avoid contact with the ethical stain of Clinton's affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The Perils of Prosperity

The limited impact of economic prosperity is more difficult to explain. Although the public overwhelmingly thought the economy was doing well and saw the nation as on "the right track" economically, Gore received little or no political advantage from this optimism. Only a fraction thought him better qualified than Bush to maintain the good times.

There are at least three possible explanations. First, because prosperity had gone on so long, voters may have come to see it as "natural" and unrelated to the decisions and policies of elected politicians. Second, voters might not know whom to praise and reward for their economic fortunes, since both parties in their platforms claimed credit for the boom. These explanations seem weak, however, because two out of three voters believed Clinton was either "somewhat" or "very" responsible for the nation's rosy conditions.

A third explanation, better supported by the opinion data, finds that Gore did not properly exploit the advantages offered by his administration's economic record. In his campaign appeals, Gore would briefly mention the record of prosperity but then emphasize his plans for the future. The approach was typified by his convention acceptance speech:

[O]ur progress on the economy is a good chapter in our history. But now we turn the page and write a new chapter.... This election is not an award for past performance. I'm not asking you to vote for me on the basis of the economy we have. Tonight, I ask for your support on the basis of the better, fairer, more prosperous America we can build together. [11]

Rhetorically and politically, Gore conceded the issue of prosperity to Bush. The Texas governor, too, saw both a good present economy and a challenge for future improvement in his convention speech:

This is a remarkable moment in the life of our nation. Never has the promise of prosperity been so vivid. But times of plenty, like times of crisis, are tests of American character.... Our opportunities are too great, our lives too short, to waste this moment. So tonight we vow to our nation: We will seize this moment of American promise. We will use these good times for great goals. [12]

Gore lost the advantages of the strong economy he inherited when, reviewing the past, he did not tie himself to this record. In the public's evaluation of the present, the vice president won among those who considered the economy "excellent" and their own financial situation improved in the past year. But he did not reap votes from those who considered the economy simply "good," or their own situation unchanged (see Table 2).

Looking to the future, Gore led among those who thought the economy would improve in the next year, and trailed among the smaller number who expected an economic deterioration. The critical group, however, was the majority who thought the economy would remain stable--in this group, Gore trailed slightly (by 47 to 49 percent). Gore failed in the election because he failed to convince this swing group that continued prosperity depended on continued Democratic governance.

Gender may also have played a role in undermining Gore's inherited advantage on the economy. Although voters who emphasized this vital factor did favor the vice president (59 to 37 percent), he gained far fewer votes (a 15-percent gain) on the issue than Clinton had four years earlier (34 percent), even though the economy had strengthened during the period. Here, too, as on issues generally, Gore emphasized the "female" side of his policy positions, such as targeting tax cuts toward education or home care of the elderly. He offered little for men who would not benefit from affirmative action in the workplace or who would use money returned from taxes for other purposes. As a result, he gained far less from men (57 percent) than from women (68 percent) who gave priority to economic issues.

In theoretical terms, the vice president turned the election away from an advantageous retrospective evaluation of the past eight years to an uncertain prospective choice based on future expectations. [13] Because the future is always clouded, voters often use past performance to evaluate the prospective programs offered by candidates, [14] but Gore did little to focus voters' attention on the Democratic achievements. As the academic literature might have warned him, even in good times "there is still an opponent who may succeed in stimulating even more favorable future expectations. And he may win." [15]

More generally, Gore neglected to put the election into a broader context--of the administration's record, of party, or of the Republican record in Congress. All of these elements might have been used to bolster his chances, but he, along with Bush, instead made the election a contest between two individuals and their personal programs. In editing his own message so severely, Gore made it less persuasive. If the campaign were to be only a choice of future programs, with their great uncertainties, a Bush program might be as convincing to the voters as a Gore program. If the election were to be only a choice of the manager of a consensual agenda, Bush's individual qualities might well be more attractive.

The Democratic candidate had the advantage of leadership of the party that held a thin plurality of voters' loyalties. His party was historically identified with the popular programs that were predominant in voters' minds--Social Security, Medicare, education, and health care--and the Democrats were still regarded in 2000 as more capable to deal with problems in those areas. Yet Gore eschewed a partisan appeal. In the three television debates, illustratively, he mentioned his party only four times, twice citing his disagreement with other Democrats on the Gulf War, and twice incidentally. [16] Only Bush would ever commend the Democratic party, claiming a personal ability to deal effectively with his nominal opposition.

Gore neither challenged this argument, nor attacked the Republicans who had controlled Congress for the past six years, although promising targets were available. The vice president might have blamed Republicans for inaction on his priority programs, such as Social Security and the environment. He might have drawn more attention to differences on issues on which his position was supported by public opinion, such as abortion rights or gun control. He could even have revived the impeachment controversy, blaming Republicans for dragging out a controversy that Americans had found wearying and 17 The public had certainly disapproved of Clinton's personal conduct, but it had also steadily approved of the president's job performance. That distinction could have been the basis for renewed criticism of the Republicans. Yet Gore stayed silent.

Gore's strategy was based on an appeal to the political center and to the undecided voters gathered there. At the party convention and in his acceptance speech, he did try to rouse Democrats by pointing to party differences--and the effort brought him a fleeting lead in opinion polls. From that point on, however, moving in a different direction, he usually attempted to mute those differences, and his lead disappeared. If there were no important differences, then Democratic voters had little reason to support a candidate whose personal traits were less than magnetic. Successful campaigns "temporarily change the basis of political involvement from citizenship to partisanship." [18] By underplaying his party, Gore lost a vital margin of votes, as more Democrats than Republicans defected.

Turnout may have made the difference in the election results. Nationally, there was only a small increase over the last election in voter participation, to 51 percent of all adults, although there were considerable increases in the most contested states, particularly by union household members and African Americans.

Usually, the preferences of nonvoters are not much different from those who actually cast ballots, [19] but the 2000 election may have been an exception to that rule. CBS News polls immediately before and after the balloting suggested that, if every citizen had actually voted, both the popular and electoral votes would have led to an overwhelming Gore victory. [20] The nonvoters, however, had less information about the election and less confidence in the political system, and they were less likely to see a difference between the parties. [21]

A stronger Gore effort to explain these differences and to bring those uncommitted citizens to the polls might have made the election result quite different. A greater emphasis on the economic record of the administration might have been particularly important in spurring turnout among lower-income voters, who voted in considerably lower proportions than in recent elections. [22]

Issues and Character in the Campaign

In 2000 the campaign was sharply contested, but reasonably civil--until the postelection period. Attacks abounded, but they focused on real issue differences between Gore and Bush, as each contestant worried over the public's declared aversion to personal, negative campaigning.

Bush is credited with a skillful campaign, but this judgment may be nothing more than the halo effect of eventually being the winner. Actually, Bush was criticized for his campaign both at its beginning and when he faced defeat during the recount. Moreover, the exit polls indicated that those who made up their minds later in the campaign were more likely to vote for Gore, despite his defective strategy, than for the presumptively better campaigner, Bush. Overall, in fact, the campaign seemed to have had very little effect. Once the nominating conventions concluded, Bush and Gore were tied at the outset of the active campaign on Labor Day, and they remained tied on the day of the balloting--and beyond. The lack of substantial change is seen in the track or tne polls, in shown in Figure 2.

Specific events, such as the television debates, probably changed opinion from day to day, as indicated by the incessant polls, but they are probably given exaggerated importance. Bush made some errors in language, and Gore was not a model of etiquette. Gore could have been more vivacious in appearance, and Bush could have been more humble in demeanor. In the overall campaign, however, voters focused on the central decisions--the direction and leadership of their nation in the new century.

No single issue dominated the campaign. Education, health care, Medicare and Social Security, defense, the federal budget, and taxes were among the priority issues for the voters, but none focused the voters' minds in the way that the economy had done in the Clinton elections.

Both Gore and Bush talked about these issues and each gave considerable attention to the same issues, enabling the voters to make a reasoned choice between the two candidates (see Table 3). Bush apparently won on important elements of the issue debate. A slightly greater proportion found that he shared their general view of government (51 percent compared to 47 percent). More specifically, voters tended to prefer the Republican's plan for across-the-board tax cuts and his proposal to allow individual investment of Social Security taxes.

When voters evaluated the candidates on Election Day, they took two different approaches. On most issues, Gore was preferred. On seven possible issues, Gore won the votes of more voters who emphasized five of them. Bush was seen as better only among those who were primarily concerned with taxes and world affairs, the latter reflecting men's concern with military defense.

When it came to individual character traits, however, Bush was deemed superior on most traits, particularly honesty and strength of leadership. He was also viewed as less likely "to say anything to get elected" and less prone to engage in unfair attacks. These individual characteristics are relevant to the conduct of the presidency, and voters should not be denigrated because they used these standards at the ballot box. On the other hand, voters gave little stress to Bush's greater "likability," a criterion of little relevance to government. Ultimately, his perceived character traits carried the day for the governor (see Table 4). [23]

The vote showed significant shifts from 1996 (see Figure 3), working to Bush's advantage. There was more party switching by former Clinton supporters than by former Dole supporters, and previous backers of Perot also moved more heavily toward the Republicans.

The Clinton scandal probably had some effect on these patterns, giving more prominence to character traits and providing more reason for party switching. Although most of the country gave little weight to the Lewinsky affair, a fourth did find it "very important." Majorities of voters continued both to praise Clinton's job performance and to disapprove of his personal behavior. A particularly important group was made up of those who combined these two attitudes, a fifth of the electorate. Although these voters strongly supported Gore (by 63 percent to 33 percent for Bush), that was still a smaller vote harvest than Gore might have reaped in an electoral field unsown with Clinton's wild oats. Among these ambivalent voters, Gore lost 15 percent of former Clinton supporters, not a large number but enough (2 percent of the national total) to be the decisive difference in the electoral standoff.

The election carried implications for the parties beyond the confusing and close results of 2000. Both could read the returns as encouraging portents for the future. The Republicans had won control, however narrow, of all branches of the government. The congressional revolution of 1994, which ended four decades of Democratic control, was maintained into a fourth Republican term.

They would hold the White House for four years, and could fill the three likely vacancies on the Supreme Court. The public was more conservative than liberal and more supportive of the party's call for reduced government. If prosperity held, the ranks of upper-income voters and the entrepreneurial spirit would grow.

Democrats could also find comfort. The taint of Bush's minority victory and the ballot recounts might enfeeble his administration and provide an immediate platform for the Democratic party's return to power in 2002 and 2004. The population was increasingly diverse ethnically, and the demographic growth among Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans was likely to bolster Democratic ranks. Its modernist cultural values, including gender equality, were increasingly shared throughout the nation. [24] The union movement had revived and had demonstrated skill and unity in mobilizing its members. The nation was divided in 2000, but Democrats could hope to revive and thrive in the future.


The long election of 2000 eventually settled the primary question, the identity of the new president. Yet it raised new issues, even fundamental questions about the effectiveness and legitimacy of American institutions.

The Presidency

President George W. Bush enters the presidency without any mandate and with half of the nation questioning his legitimate title to the White House. He shares power with a Congress essentially evenly divided between the parties, and he will confront the bitterness of disappointed Democrats. The public, now more knowledgeable and more cynical about political maneuvering, provides no clear policy direction for governing a divided nation.

Still, the government will function. Even though the president had only half the votes, he has all of the executive power. His predecessor, Clinton, also lacked a popular majority yet managed effectively to use the powers of his office--appointments, executive orders, vetoes, budgets, and agenda-setting. The mail will be delivered, the diplomatic corps and the armed forces will be ready to defend American interests abroad, appropriations will eventually be passed.

Perhaps the new president will show unexpected skill in conciliating his opposition and bringing the citizenry together on a moderate agenda. Perhaps he will develop a personal magnetism to inspire public enthusiasm, a quality unseen in either candidate during the campaign. More likely is failure to innovate solutions to national problems and continued deadlock on such issues as health care, Social Security, campaign finance reform, and foreign policy in the post--cold war world. Most likely is a contentious election in 2004, when the incumbent president will try to defend his questionable title to office.

The election result will reinforce the recently diminished status of the presidency. With the ending of the cold war, foreign policy became less of an immediate concern for the nation. The institutional effect was to decrease the significance of the president, the principal officer of foreign policy. Economic prosperity has had a similar effect. With no apparent need for government intervention to maintain employment and growth, the economic leadership of the president has become less critical. Instead, the vital decisions seem to be those of the unelected Federal Reserve Board, whose chair, Alan Greenspan, is often given the most credit for the long-term boom.

In addition to these general impersonal influences, Clinton weakened the moral standing of the presidency by his personal conduct, and the office was further diminished by the Republican impeachment and its focus on Clinton's salacious affair. The presidency has been a powerful position because it combines the "dignity" of a head of state with the "efficiency" of a head of government. [25] Losing much of the majesty of the office also means a partial loss of its utility.

Because of the Clinton-Lewinsky-impeachment controversy, the personal traits of the next president became an important element in the 2000 election, and this was a principal source of Bush's appeal. The nation now may regain ritualistic "dignity and honor" in the White House, as both candidates pledged. It is less likely, however, to regain the political advantages of a strong presidency--national unity, policy leadership, and inspiration to great goals.

The Electoral College

The election vindicated the genius of the seemingly plodding institutions of the American republic, the Constitution, and particularly the electoral college. The Framers had devised the electoral system for an age in which transportation and communication were slow, but it served the country well in a time of jet planes and e-mail. By providing a long interval between the popular vote and the meeting of the electors, the system provided time to count and recount votes, to argue and settle lawsuits, to begin cooling passions, and to allow a degree of routine transition to a new administration.

Those advantages should be kept in mind in the inevitable consideration of changes in the electoral college. [26] If the present system were changed, politics would change, as campaigners altered their techniques and redirected their efforts, and we cannot predict all of the consequences. We can, however, make some estimates of the political impact.

The most obvious change would be to abolish the electoral college altogether and to choose the president by direct popular vote. In 2000 the result would have been a narrow Gore victory. Realistically, this change is unlikely to pass the difficult barriers to constitutional amendment, since the present system works to the advantage of small states, which could prevent an amendment from passing the Senate or the state legislatures.

If adopted, however, this new system would have its own problems. In a close election such as 2000, recounts would surely be demanded throughout the nation. The clumsy election administration evident in Florida is not unique; defects exist in every state and county. A difference of only a hundred votes per county-as little as one vote in every other precinct--would have reversed the results in 2000, so partisans would be mining every possible vein of new votes. A national recount would mean that the extended delays already experienced in the one state would be replicated everywhere, making it unlikely that America would have a president clearly accepted in time for the inauguration.

A frequently heard proposal for change within the electoral college is to alter the means of choosing the electors within the individual states, which could be done simply by state legislatures without amending the U.S. Constitution. Imitating the system presently used in Maine and Nebraska, one elector could be awarded to the leading presidential candidate in each congressional district (corresponding to the members of the House), and two (corresponding to the state's senators) could be awarded to the statewide winner. One immediate effect would be to extend the partisanship of congressional redistricting, known as gerrymandering, to the presidential election.

In 2000 the result of this system would probably be a clear Bush victory, despite his minority in the country. Assuming the presidential vote had followed that for the House, Bush would win 222 votes from the individual congressional districts where Republicans won House seats, and he would add 60 votes from the 30 states he captured. This total of 282 electoral votes would be an even greater distortion of the popular vote than the actual results in the election.

Another proposal has been to divide the electoral college vote of each state in proportion to the popular vote in each state, rather than awarding blocs on the winner-take-all system. In 2000, a proportional division would have led to an even closer result, in favor of Bush, than the actual count: Bush would have received 262.6 electoral votes, Gore 261.4, and Nader 13.8. [27] The proportional system would have made Bush the president with neither a majority nor a plurality of the popular vote. This result would again evidence the tilt of the electoral college toward the small states, but it would certainly not reflect the total electorate's preferences any better than the present system.

Any change other than direct popular vote would lack democratic legitimacy, but the direct vote would suffer such great problems in operation that it is unlikely to be adopted. Perhaps the only change that can be easily made is to abolish the actual position of elector--to avoid the possibility of "faithless" electors--and simply award the votes mathematically. A minimum and necessary statutory change would provide a better and uniform system of electoral administration under federal law.

Restoring Legitimacy

Beyond the presidency, the election of 2000 has raised troubling questions about the stability of American government generally. In the heat of the recount controversies, the integrity of the entire electoral process was questioned. Both the Gore and Bush camps saw the opposition as preparing a "legal coup d'etat." Party competition was denigrated as illegitimate opposition, directly contradicting the basic premise of a healthy democracy.

Democrats saw ballot manipulation in the actions of the Florida secretary of state--who was characterized as a "Soviet commissar"--and in the counting of overseas ballots. Republicans attacked the courts for "legalistic" interpretations of statutes, although courts are precisely designed for such work. Demonstrators attempted, with some apparent success, to disrupt the recount in Miami. A leading conservative intellectual found a "constitutional crisis...preferable to supine yielding to an imperial judiciary." [28] In keeping with this defiant attitude, the Florida legislature considered choosing electors regardless of the ballot count, and congressional Republicans prepared plans to count the electoral vote for Bush and Cheney whatever the reported tallies.

The institutions of American democracy were eventually vindicated, but the threats themselves are very worrisome. Safety came without much help from politicians who might have acted as statesmen. The art of politics, as eloquently stated by James Madison, is to reconcile the competitive "impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the right of other citizens" in a way that promotes "the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." This vital task is entrusted to elected representatives, "whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations." [29] These qualities were not evident among American politicians in 2000. No major official in either party spoke for any interest other than his party's victory.

Safety came instead from the American public, who showed remarkable restraint and calm, even as it avidly followed events. Americans' "willingness to accept a less than perfect outcome reflects both a realism about the way we run elections and a lack of passion about either candidate." [30] Even as media pundits and partisan advocates became increasingly antagonistic, the public held to two goals--completion and accuracy--and reiterated two basic commands: get it done, and get it right. [31]

The concluding words on the presidential election were spoken long ago, by Benjamin Franklin at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. When a spectator outside asked whether the Framers had created a monarchy or a republic, Franklin replied, hopefully, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it." [32] After the tumult, division, and enmity born of the election of 2000, Americans will need to try harder if they still want to keep their republic.



(1.) The standard deviation of the Democratic vote was 9.1 in the 2000 election, compared to 7.0 in 1996 and 6.0 in 1992. Two-thirds of the states fall within this range, above or below the national average.

(2.) For an incisive analysis of the actual patterns of conflict at the Constitutional Convention, see Calvin Jillson, Constitution Making (New York: Agathon Press, 1988).

(3.) This figure is the simple regression of the Democratic percentage of the two-party vote in 2000 and 1996, excluding the outlying District of Columbia. The correlation with the three-party vote of 1996 is .95. Correlation of the 2000 and 1992 vote is .86 for the two-party vote and .79 for the three-party vote.

(4.) In the VNS exit poll, approximately half (47 percent) of the Nader voters said they would choose Gore in a two-man race, a fifth (21 percent) would choose Bush, and a third (32 percent) would not vote. Applying these figures to the actual vote, Gore would have achieved a net gain of 26,000 votes in Florida, far more than needed to carry the state easily; increased margins in the other close states; and a net gain of nearly 6,000 in New Hampshire, bringing him to a virtual tie.

(5.) See Edward G. Carmines and Geoffrey C. Layman, "Issue Evolution in Postwar American Politics" in Byron E. Shafer, Present Discontents (New York: Chatham House, 1997), 89-134, and William G. Mayer, The Divided Democrats (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996).

(6.) Support for Nader was low in all groups, too low for meaningful analysis, and varied little among social groups. He received 5 percent or more in the national exit poll only among 18-29 year-old white men, non-churchgoers, white liberal Independents, and former Perot voters.

(7.) This analysis is based on the VNS national exit poll, as published in the New York Times, 12 November 2000, supplemented by data provided by CBS News.

(8.) There approximately 39.4 million white male voters: 100 million persons voted, 82 percent are white, and 48 percent of the whites are males (100 x .82 x .48 = 39.4). There is no net candidate advantage among white women. Applying the 12-point white gender difference to the male vote, the net advantage to Bush is 4.7 million votes (39.4 x .12). Among blacks, there is overwhelming support for Gore among both sexes. The gender gap there results in a female advantage for Gore. There are approximately 5.2 million black female voters: 100 million persons voted, 10 percent are black, and 52 percent of the blacks are females (100 X .10 X .52). Black men voted 85 percent for Gore, black women 94 percent. Applying the 9-point gender difference to the black female vote, the net advantage for Gore is under half a million votes (5.2 X .09). Combining the races, the gender gap resulted in a Bush gain of over 4 million votes. Calculations are based on the VNS national exit poll.

(9.) Gary Langer, "New Republican, Old Issues," analyzing the ABC News poll, reported at (www.abcnews.go.com), November 2000.

(10.) Robert G. Kaiser, "Is This Any Way to Pick A Winner?" Washington Post, 26 May 2000. On the day of the election, the political scientists were less confident: David Stout, "Experts, Once Certain, Now Say Gore Is a Maybe," New York Times, 7 November 2000.

(11.) New York Times, 18 August 2000.

(12.) New York Times, 4 August 2000.

(13.) Morris Fiorina, Retrospective Voting in American National Elections (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981).

(14.) Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper, 1957), chap. 3.

(15.) Fiorina, Retrospective Voting, 198.

(16.) My thanks go to Marjorie Hershey, who provided this information from her computer search of the television debates' text.

(17.) Molly W. Sonner and Clyde Wilcox, "Forgiving and Forgetting: Public Support for Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky Scandal," PS 32 (September 1999): 554-57; and John Zaller, "Monica Lewinsky's Contribution to Political Science," PS 31 (June 1998): 182-87.

(18.) Samuel L. Popkin, The Reasoning Voter (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 8-9.

(19.) Raymond E. Wolfinger and Steven J. Rosenstone, Who Votes? (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980), 108-14.

(20.) In the CBS poll released on 5 November, those expected not to vote favored Gore by 42 to 28 percent. In the CBS poll released on 13 November, as the electoral count remained undetermined, those who regretted not voting favored Gore by 53 to 33 percent.

(21.) Reported by the Vanishing Voter Project of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government (www.vanishingvoter.org), November 2000.

(22.) A minority of the voters (47 percent) had annual family incomes below $50,000, compared to 61 percent in 1996 and 68 percent in 1992. This change is far greater than the growth in income during these years.

(23.) The calculation for the last columns is a simple multiplication of the percentage of all responses citing the specific issue or trait by the percentage in that group voting for a particular candidate. Since all respondents did not answer these questions, the resulting figures are then normalized to a base of 100. For example, 18 percent cited the economy and jobs as the most important issue, 59 percent of this group voted for Gore, and all responses summed to 88 percent. The contribution to the Gore vote then = .18 X .59 / .88 = .12. Nader's appeal was spread across many issues and traits, with some particular appeal on the foreign policy issues, probably trade, and his presumed caring quality.

(24.) Alan Wolfe, One Nation, After All (New York: Viking Penguin, 1998).

(25.) Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution [1867] (London: Oxford University Press, 1928), chap. 1.

(26.) See Judith Best, The Choice of the People? (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996) for elaboration of the competing arguments and proposals.

(27.) Calculated, to three decimal places, from the vote totals in the Appendix table. The remaining 0.2 electoral votes would be cast for minor candidates such as Buchanan.

(28.) William Kristol, "Crowning the Imperial Judiciary," New York Times, 28 November 2000.

(29.) Federalist No. 10 [1787] (New York: Modern Library, 1941), 54, 59.

(30.) Andrew Kohut, "May Either Man Win," New York Times, 25 November 2000.

(31.) See, for example, the CBS News/New York Times Poll of 20 November and the Washington Post! ABC News Poll of 4 December 2000.

(32.) Max Farrand, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. 3 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1923), 85.

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