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Monday, November 03, 2008

Back from Hibernation - Looking Back to 2000: Why Florida Didn't Matter, But Ralph Nader Did

Trilby Hats and Coffee is back from hibernation in this election season to take a look at perhaps the defining election of recent times - before 2008 of course. The 2000 contest between Gore and Bush sowed the seeds for the ideological divisions that would foment during the Bush presidency. The election set up a public distrust in George Dubya that has become the norm in intellectual (and less-than-intellectual) discourse on the Bush presidency. I myself remember, at the age of 9 going on 10, being distraught at the outcome - though I'm not 100% certain that I knew what I was distraught over.

George W Bush stole the election. That has become a statement of fact. It does, of course, have much merit. The Bush campaign's legal actions in Florida, in challenging the recount at the US Supreme Court, and then - apparently - using their leverage with supreme court members in order to manoeuvre the court into supporting the Gore campaign's basic legal premise whilst denying the recount on a technicality caused by the court, definitely did swing the outcome of the election, at that stage, with Florida still undecided. However, the reality is that Florida was, frankly, irrelevant. Florida was not the swing state in 2000, Al Gore could have won without the touch and go state of Florida, if only he had won a more generally reliable Democratic state in the Northeast, one that is known for its political pull beyond its small size. That's right, the 2000 election really swung on New Hampshire.

Bush won New Hampshire, with its 4 electoral points. If Gore had won those 4 points, he would have won the election by the slimmest of margins, taking his tally to the requisite 270, and dropping Bush's down to 267. Take a look at the internal New Hampshire figures (it's a bit of a scroll down). Bush won 48% compared to Gore's 47%. Ralph Nader, running slightly to Al's left, won a frankly exorbitant 4%. Assuming that (only) half of Nader's support came from slightly turned off Democrats who would have voted for Gore had Nader not run, Nader really was the spoiler here, as a 2 percent swing from Nader to Gore would have given Gore the race by a tight margin - though considering the number of tight margins in that race, this would have been a relatively safe victory. Compare this to 1996, when Clinton won New Hampshire by almost 10% (Clinton's results are, rather confusingly, in red), or to 2004 when Kerry won New Hampshire, though less convincingly. 2000 starts to look a lot like an anomaly, and will do even more when this year's results come through. Thus, it is New Hampshire and Ralph Nader that cost Gore the election, not, and it pains me to say it, George Bush (and his Father and Brother) and the Supreme Court (and Ralph Nader's Florida 2%). So whilst the vilification of Bush is only somewhat justified in the context of the 2000 election - remember Florida did happen, it just shouldn't have mattered - the vilification of Nader by Democrats is not only wholly justified, but, if anything, too lenient.


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