OK, I know that most media stories say the race is too close to call.
What I don’t know is why. At Rasmussen Research, we’ve shown George W.
Bush with a modest but significant lead ever since his first debate with
Al Gore. Now, with seven days to go, all tracking polls show George Bush
ahead by at least one point and these findings are confirmed by other
So, why is it that reporters consider this race too close to call? It
may be somewhat like the sports announcers who tell you that even though
a football team is trailing by 24 points going into the fourth quarter,
there’s still time for a comeback. These announcers need to keep the
game interesting so the fans will stay tuned in. In the election game,
journalists know that people won’t pay attention if they think it’s all
over but the cheering.
However, I think there’s more at work here. Many in the media seem to
be in a state of denial. It could be that they expected Gore to win and
just can’t quite come to grips with data challenging their basic
assessment. It’s also possible that the volatility of some tracking
polls have caused reporters to question the polls themselves. Perhaps
most important, reporters are caught up in the game itself. If Bush is
going to California, it must be significant. Otherwise, why would
they have to follow him out West?
By being too close to the race, many in the media have missed some
basic points. So, let’s add some clarity.
First, if the race were truly a toss-up, half the polls would show
Bush ahead and half would show Gore ahead. Since the debates began,
virtually all of the polling data released has shown Bush ahead. Sure,
there may be a disagreement about whether his lead is one point or
eight, but there’s no disagreement about who’s winning.
Second, a lot of reporters have noted that both candidates are
defending states they once thought were safe. They have also noted that
many of these states are simply too close to call and that anybody could
win each toss-up state. That’s true enough, but it misses the context.
At Rasmussen Research, we show Bush leading in states with 231 electoral
votes. Gore is up in states with 168 electoral votes. Only 139 votes are
in play and 270 are needed to win.
That means Bush needs to capture just 39 of the 139 contested
electoral votes (that’s 28 percent of the total). Gore needs to win 73
percent of the contested votes (102 electoral votes). So, if all the
states are evenly contested, that’s bad news for Gore. In reality, it’s
even worse since Bush has modest leads in many of the contested states.
Gore’s situation is a lot like that of the Washington Redskins in
their Monday night football game against the Tennessee Titans. With two
seconds to go, the Redskins were down by 6 with the ball on their own
20-yard line. They needed an 80-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to win the
game. Theoretically, it was possible. Realistically, it was not. The
Redskins lost 27-21. Without the political equivalent of an 80-yard Hail
Mary pass, Gore will lose as well.
For those of you who are worried that you will have to stay up late
to find out who will be our next president, don’t be. The geography of
this year’s race is such that polls will close in most major “toss up”
states by 8 p.m. (Eastern). Florida polls close at 7 p.m., West Virginia
at 7:30 and Michigan, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Tennessee, Delaware and
Maine will all close by 8 p.m. By that point in time, it is likely that
George W. Bush will have picked up the 39 electoral votes from toss-up
states that he needs to win the presidency.
If you’re not ready for bed at 8, wait until 9 and you’ll hear the
winner of the Clinton-Lazio Senate race.
So, the next time somebody tells you this race is too close to call,
feel free to laugh!