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Close presidential elections and alternate histories


Over the past 60 years, six of the fifteen presidential elections in the USA have been extremely close. These elections ended up being basically coin flips — if they had been held a few days earlier or later, or if the weather had been different on election day, etc., the result could easily have changed.

The six very close elections were:

Kennedy over Nixon. This was the first of three presidential elections over the four decades prior to 2000 in which the winner almost lost the popular vote. Kennedy won it by barely more than 100,000 votes out of nearly 69 million cast.

Nixon over Humphrey. A largely forgotten twist on this one is how close Wallace came to tossing it to the House of Representatives, which then would have elected Humphrey — if Humphrey had carried any two of Ohio, Illinois, and California, which were all very close races, or if Nixon had not won California, Nixon would not have gotten a majority in the Electoral College.

Carter over Ford. Ford made a huge comeback in the weeks immediately before the election, and would have won if he had taken Texas and Mississippi, which were both extremely close. Reagan failing to campaign for him almost certainly cost the Republicans the presidency, and of course not coincidentally made Reagan’s election in 1980 possible.

Bush over Gore. You probably remember this one.

Bush over Kerry. Bush won the popular vote by three million, but a few tens of thousand of votes flipping from Bush to Kerry in Ohio would have given the election to Kerry, at which point all Very Serious People would have concluded that the Electoral College was an anachronistic abomination.

Trump over Clinton.

Flipping any one of these elections would of course have had enormous consequences for subsequent US history. Given this, the fact that all these outcomes were, statistically speaking, essentially random, is a sobering thought, even at 7 AM in the morning. (On a separate topic, I wonder how much day drinking the pandemic has inspired? In regard to that practice I’ve gone from emulating Carrie Nation to Don Draper).

Anyhow I hope you all have some fun with this.

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