What did the election results mean?

Small changes in the dis­tri­b­u­tion of votes in each coun­try would have seen very dif­fer­ent out­comes. bq. In the Unit­ed States, the Pres­i­dent won 51% of the pop­u­lar vote but the out­come was deter­mined by a major­i­ty of Elec­toral Col­lege that was due, final­ly, to the results in Ohio. There, the Bush­mar­gin was 130,000 votes; in oth­er words, had 65,000 of the vot­ers who made up their mind on the day of the poll vot­ed for Ker­ry, he would now be Pres­i­dent. What does this tell us about the sen­ti­ments of the U.S. elec­torate? Noth­ing. bq. In Aus­tralia, the gap between the pri­ma­ry votes of the Lib­er­al-Nation­al Coali­tion and the Labor par­ty was much larg­er than in the Bush/Kerry race. But the “outcome”:http://www.abc.net.au/elections/federal/2004/results/ was still less an endorse­ment of the Howard gov­ern­ment than the U.S. result had been for Bush. The vote for the gov­ern­ment was small­er than the vote against the gov­ern­ment by a mar­gin of 3.2 per­cent of the elec­torate: the con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment secured 46.8 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote, Labor 37.7 per­cent and the rest went to Greens, the Democ­rats and inde­pen­dents. Due to the dis­tri­b­u­tion of votes, how­ev­er, this minor­i­ty of the pop­u­lar vote won the incum­bents 87 low­er-house seats while the major­i­ty non-gov­ern­ment vote won only 63 low­er-house seats. In nei­ther case can these close and ambigu­ous results be extrap­o­lat­ed to any polit­i­cal or social con­clu­sion. As the math­e­mati­cian John Allen Pau­los “argues”:http://education.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5065109–110865,00.html, the idea that sig­nif­i­cant events such as the return of Bush to the White House must have sig­nif­i­cant caus­es is only a “charm­ing super­si­ti­tion.” Far from sug­gest­ing a pro­found swing in elec­toral moods or val­ues, sta­tis­ti­cal­ly defen­si­ble mod­els sug­gest a high degree of laten­cy in the electorate’s pref­er­ences that may also hold in Aus­tralia. Pau­los points to Yale econ­o­mist Ray Fair’s six explana­to­ry fac­tors: bq. The first is incum­ben­cy, which has been a dis­tinct advan­tage his­tor­i­cal­ly. The sec­ond is par­ty (Repub­li­cans have a slight his­tor­i­cal edge), and the third is “par­ty fatigue” (two or more terms out of pow­er offers some ben­e­fit). The remain­ing three fac­tors con­cern the econ­o­my: GDP’s per capi­ta growth rate (high­er is bet­ter for the incum­bent), the num­ber of quar­ters dur­ing the pre­ced­ing four years in which the growth rate exceed­ed 3.2% (the more, the bet­ter), and the infla­tion rate (low­er is bet­ter). On the basis of these six fac­tors, Fair’s mod­el has gen­er­at­ed quite accu­rate vote per­cent­ages in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions dat­ing back to 1916.

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