After the outpouring of so much money and emotion, so many words, so many oddly divergent polls, and so many partisan predictions, it really does finally come down to voting.
The presidential campaigns have internal polling that gives each more information than we have on the likelihood of victory and the most likely scenarios. If you’ve listened closely over the last few days, you’ve heard the partisans select a single or a few polls, an anecdote and a narrow trend to explain their confidence that the nation or a battleground state is going their way. If you are like me, you’ve listened most diligently to the predictions you’ve wanted to hear. I know a number of possible scenarios for a Bush victory, and know which polls support those eventualities.
Very soon, we hope by the end of the day, we will know who has prevailed, and while no one knows with certainty who that will be, what is certain is that nearly half or slightly more than half of voting Americans will be disappointed, angry, frightened and/or depressed. There is no unity in American politics. There will not be—and almost never is—a popular mandate. A landslide in a presidential elections is a few points over 50%, or more accurately 50.1% in many states.
Two presidential candidates in the last 28 years have received more than 51% of the popular vote—George H. W. Bush received 53.4% in 1988, and Ronald Reagan a whopping 58.8% in 1984.
Here’s the breakdown since 1976:
Bush 48 Gore 48+ Nader and other 4
Clinton 50 Dole 42 Perot 8
Clinton 43.3 Bush 37.7 Perot 19
Bush 53.4 Dukakis 45.6 Other 1
Reagan 58.8 Mondale 40.6
Reagan 50.7 Carter 41 Anderson and other 8.3
Carter 50.1 Ford 48
The wonder and success of the American political system is that half of the nation recognizes the rule of law and yields to the results of the election.
The election of John Kerry would be a tragedy for America, because of what it will mean for American strength and security and it because of its impact on the judiciary. But nearly as dangerous—perhaps more dangerous—would be a denuding of the election process and a weakening of the power of the ballot box with another round of bitter litigation.
This dangerous precedent—the legacy of Al Gore’s unwillingness to accept the results of a close contest—chips away at the tradition of the 50% whose candidate does not win acquiescing to constitutional order. Those who lose grant the victor and the inexact art of democracy its day, and maintain confidence in the election process. By turning to the courts, which are also made up of partisans, we chip away at the contract that holds together a divided country and we tarnish the model of our representative democracy.
The disappointed half-nation must recognize the results of the election, regardless of how close. When the integrity of the people’s vote is tainted, we do great harm to the Republic.