Voting and Margins
By David Henderson
I used to teach my students, before I was allowed to vote in this country (I became a U.S. citizen in 1986) that even in swing states, their vote for President would not be determinative.
When I finally got to vote (I think it was in the June 1986 California primaries), I voted and experienced the truth of my statements.
My vote for U.S. president makes no difference on the margin and neither does yours. (That’s why I always vote for the person closest to my views, no matter how slim his or her odds.)
Which, of course, doesn’t mean that politicians running for office should think that votes don’t matter. They’re dealing with much thicker margins.
My favorite example I liked to give in class after 2000 was the Bush/Gore election for President because all my students had followed it, at least somewhat. One of the big issues in Florida was that, on April 22, 2000, Bill Clinton’s administration had used guns to rip away Elian Gonzalez from his relatives in Florida and send him back to Cuba.
That was a big upset to a large number of Florida voters from Cuba or whose parents left Cuba. Gore, of course, was part of the Clinton administration. So what was he to do? I followed it pretty carefully and my recall is that Gore lamely criticized Bill Clinton for one news cycle and then let it drop.
Then I asked my students: What if Al Gore had lambasted Clinton for it over, say, 3 days? Is it conceivable that he would have shifted, say, 0.2 percent of the Florida Cuban vote? If so, we would be referring to President Gore.
Or, I pointed out, George W. Bush was an effective campaigner. What if, instead of thinking he had Florida in the bag, partly because his brother was governor, he hadn’t gone home to Texas to do a premature victory lap? Then we might have avoided the legal nightmare of Bush v. Gore.