Could Bush end up the Gore of '04?

Published October 21, 2004 6:55PM (EDT)

According to yesterday's Harris poll, John Kerry is down by 2 points nationally, but leads by 7 in the swing states. A Pew Research Center poll concurs, calling the race a tie nationally, and putting Kerry up 6 in the swing states. It may seem hard to believe, but alongside current "safe-states" numbers, these polls suggest that the race could result in an inverse of the 2000 election: Kerry may very well win the electoral vote, while Bush could win the popular vote.

Because of how the electoral college allots votes, the odds are still against that outcome: Every state gets one electoral vote for each of its senators and Congressional representatives, making small states more influential per capita. That's an arrangement that usually benefits Republicans, who have a lock on the less-populous states in the Midwest and South.

But the inverse scenario is not out of the question in 2004. This is because the red states are a lot more unanimously red than the blue states are unanimously blue. For instance, while the most recent poll says Kerry leads by 11 in the Democratic stronghold of California, Bush leads by 23 in Texas. And while a 7-point Kerry advantage in Vermont colors the state solidly blue, it doesn't come close to balancing out the 31-point drubbing Bush is expected to give Kerry in Nebraska.

By pollster John Zogby's estimate, there are 34 such "safe states," in which one candidate's lead is insurmountable. The most recent poll data shows that, after weighting for population, Bush leads in the red states by an average margin of 18 percent, and Kerry leads in the blue states by an average margin of 14 percent. And not only is Bush's lead greater, but the red states have a higher combined population than the blue states.

Assuming comparable voter turnout in both red and blue states, War Room calculates that, based solely on the safe states, Bush currently holds roughly a 4-point lead in both the popular and the electoral college vote. In other words, Kerry could eke out an electoral win while Bush could very well still take the popular vote.

After the controversy of 2000, it's a strange, though real possibility. At this point it would probably be better for the country to have a decisive and uncontested outcome, but it's hard not to imagine the irony were a losing Bush campaign to end up protesting a failure of the national election system.

By Jeff Horwitz

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