Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 31, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

FLORIDA REDUX?....What are the odds of another Florida this year? There are really only two conditions that have to be met: (1) a close electoral college vote and (2) at least one state with a very close popular vote margin. (Other conditions, such as both sides being mad as hell, we'll take as a given.)

Condition 1 seems like a reasonable bet, but how about condition 2? If you define "very close" as a Florida-like margin of less than a thousand votes, then the odds are against it. But if you define it more reasonably as, say, less than one-half of one percent of a state's total vote, then the odds are very much in favor. You don't need any fancy math to see this, you just need to look at the vote results for 2000 to see how many close states there were. Here's the list:

State

Bush

Gore

Vote Margin

% Margin

Florida

2,912,790

2,912,253

537

0.0%

New Mexico

286,417

286,783

366

0.1%

Wisconsin

1,237,279

1,242,987

5,708

0.2%

Iowa

634,373

638,517

4,144

0.3%

The only reason the bottom three states weren't litigated was because Bush didn't need them. This year, my guess is that everything will be in play.

Now, 2000 was an unusually close election, and this year might not be quite as tight. But the odds are good that at least three or four states will have vote margins of only a few tenths of a percent, and if that's the case and if the electoral college is close it's hard to see what could possibly keep us from having a repeat of Bush v. Gore.

So here's my off-the-cuff guess: the chance of the electoral college being very close (within 10-20 votes) is about 30%. The chance of having at least one very close state is about 80%. Therefore, the probability of a repeat of Florida is about 25%. Yuck.

Kevin Drum 8:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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