Revisiting Florida 2000 and the Butterfly Effect

Revisiting Florida 2000 and the Butterfly Effect

We’re still in a post-primary lull, before the campaign heats up – and before Donald J. Trump goes to trial. Here are a few quick notes to end the week.

Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic senator, died this week at the age of 82. He was Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate in 2000, when Gore-Lieberman was less than 600 votes away from winning the White House in Florida.

We will never know what would have happened if the Supreme Court had allowed the recount to proceed. But I don’t think it’s always acknowledged that we probably know that Mr. Gore would have won Florida and therefore the presidency if it hadn’t been for the infamous “butterfly election” in Palm Beach County.

If you don’t remember – it was a while ago – the butterfly choice was very unusual. The candidates were listed on both sides of the ballot paper, and voters cast their votes by punching a corresponding hole in the middle. What made it so unusual was that the order of the candidates on the ballot did not follow the same logic as the corresponding hole: George W. Bush and Mr. Gore were the first two candidates on the left, but they corresponded to the first and third hole of the stamp. The second blow corresponded to the first candidate on the right side of the ballot: paleoconservative Pat Buchanan, who was running as the Reform Party candidate.

After the election, many Palm Beach voters claimed they had accidentally voted for Mr. Buchanan when they had intended to vote for Mr. Gore. This is clear in the data. Mr. Buchanan fared far better in Palm Beach County than on the other side of the county line. In fact, Mr. Buchanan fared far better in Palm Beach County than in any politically or demographically comparable area in the country.

You can see this pattern clearly in this map, courtesy of Matthew C. Isbell, a Democratic data strategist and consultant:

Mr. Buchanan also performed much better among Election Day voters — who used the butterfly ballot — than among mail-in voters who did not, a pattern not seen elsewhere in the state. Mr. Buchanan’s support was also concentrated in Democratic areas, even though he was a very conservative candidate.

Data-wise, the case is a slam dunk: At least 2,000 voters who planned to vote for Gore-Lieberman ended up voting for Mr. Buchanan. All other things being equal, that would have been enough to decide the election.

Last week I wrote that there was some evidence that maybe, just maybe, President Biden’s numbers went up slightly after the State of the Union.

Maybe not. It has become harder to spot signs of a Biden surge. Overall, new polls from Fox, CNBC and Quinnipiac suggest the presidential race has remained essentially unchanged, with Mr. Trump still holding a slim lead nationally. The president’s approval rating doesn’t seem to be noticeably higher either.

As I wrote last week, this is neither necessarily unexpected nor terrible news for Mr. Biden. The state of the nation usually doesn’t make much of a difference. And there is one case in which the speech was still helpful to him, assuaging elite Democrats’ concerns about his ability to run a vigorous campaign.

However, this is really not just about the state of the nation. Many of the ingredients for a potential Biden comeback have emerged in recent months, from improving consumer sentiment to the sense of finality that the Biden-Trump matchup would be. There are many ways a Biden comeback could play out, but one of them was if those favorable conditions translated into poll gains. The end of the primary season and the State of the Union were plausible opportunities for Mr. Biden to realize these successes. It hasn’t happened yet.

The next opportunity: the trial of Donald J. Trump, scheduled for April 15, on charges related to paying hush money to a porn star.

Florida 2000 is a reminder that every vote will count, but as I wrote earlier this week, many less engaged voters will undoubtedly choose to sit out this election. That led some of you to ask whether there was any early evidence of voter turnout this fall. For example, Judy Pelowski asked:

In my opinion, voter turnout will be the biggest factor in who wins the election this year. Given the level of dissatisfaction with candidates this year, do you have any signs that people won’t show up? If so, what is the likelihood of low voter turnout?

It’s a little early to say much about eventual turnout, but all quick and easy early indicators suggest turnout could be lower than it was four years ago. To give a few examples:

  • Voter turnout in the 2022 primary and midterm elections was lower than the corresponding numbers four years earlier.

  • According to the polls, fewer voters like the candidates than four years ago.

  • Our initial polling shows that a smaller share of voters say they are “almost certain” to vote than at this point four years ago.

Now, voter turnout in 2020 was very high for that era, so turnout may drop in November and still be quite high. But at this early stage it is difficult to make a good case for turnout at 2020 levels.

Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report dug into newly digitized archives to highlight a Cook analysis of a crucial House race from each election year from 1984 to 2002.

With just a paragraph or two per election, it’s pretty quick and easy to understand, and it’s also a good test to find out if you’re a real politics junkie. Perhaps best of all, one of the highlights happens to be from the district where Mr. Wasserman grew up (then New Jersey’s 12th District), and thus contains his personal archive of campaign materials from the 1998 campaign.

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2024-03-30 14:01:14