Screwy Presidential Election? – It’s Happened Before!!

rbh-and-truman

Rutherford B. Hayes (Background)/Harry Truman (Foreground)

I hesitated a few weeks to post this article because the wound is still fresh for those that feel that the presidential election was so uniquely unfair that they felt protesting was the only answer.  I have done some research, and along with some basic statistics, felt that sharing this information may at least give people food for thought.  I will never change individual minds on the outcome (some of them in my own family), but maybe (just maybe) we can all take a breath and realize that these types of elections have happened before.

Some of the things I have heard:

  1.  Get rid of the electoral college.  This type of thing didn’t happen in the past!
  2.  This President-Elect did not get the popular vote.  How can we do this when we are a democracy!
  3.  We will never heal, but be divided forever, thanks to the electorate that voted for this President
  4.  This is just unfair

The first point is very clearly something that may have to be readdressed given the nature of modern America.  The reason for the Electoral College was to ensure that populations in rural areas were counted, which is one reason according to one site (http://www.historycentral.com/elections/Electoralcollgewhy.html) was to equalize the small and large states so that a manipulation of the citizenry would not result in a President elected that would be a tyrant.  The source goes on to say that the small states wanted this compromise in order to approve the Constitution at the Convention in the 1780s.  From a statistical point of view, this is very smart.  In essence, the Electoral College acts as the “standard deviation” or “standard normal curve” to the election process, equalizing the results so that every state is treated in a fair way.  If we take a look at the populations of the states today, and the Presidential Election was done with population only, then the candidate would need only a few states to take the election, California being one of them.   “What a minute!” I hear you say.  If a person wins California NOW they can still take the Electoral Votes in that state.  Yep, but the bottom line is that if the candidate barely wins smaller states, or larger states, even though they do not get the popular vote, they get that state’s electoral votes.  You want to get rid of the Electoral College?  Contact your Congressional Representative and start a Constitutional Amendment to get rid of it (we have done this before as a country).  The problem is that the smaller states like the system, so this could be a problem getting a majority vote (3/4 votes of all states actually).  However, the system allows it, so why not?

Let’s review the fairness issue.  The fairness in the Electoral system is that EVERY state is considered for the Presidential Election, which really proves the US motto “Out of Many – One.”  Of course, one might argue that having a popular vote also proves that motto, since individuals will then vote for the president and, thereby, cut the boundaries that divide the states.  This whole argument comes down to whether an Electoral College is necessary in Modern America, given our ability to communicate worldwide in an instant, our research abilities, and our basic political system.  “After all,” you say, “this type of thing did not happen prior to our living history.”

I am here to tell you that this type of thing happened EXACTLY 140 years ago with the election of Rutherford B. Hayes (http://history1800s.about.com/od/presidentialcampaigns/a/electionof1876.htm).  This election, according to the cited source, was “intensely fought and had a controversial outcome”  –  Sound familiar?  The winner, Hayes, did not get the popular vote AND did not get the majority of electoral vote — but he still won!  The mechanics behind this is a great read (it seems summarized best in the reference above), but suffice it to say an “Electoral Commission” favored Hayes and he won the election.  However, again according to the resource above, his 4 year tenure (he wrote a letter after the Republican Convention that he would only serve one term) was plagued by his perceived illegitimacy, even to the point of calling him “Rutherfraud” B. Hayes.  Samuel Tilden, his opponent and winner of the popular vote, still felt as though he had won (according to the source).  He later fell ill and died, leaving part of his fortune to the New York Public Library.  A philanthropist to the very end.

This covers both 1 and 2 above.  The reason we have an Electoral College is that we are supporting the Constitution, and this has led to some interestingly unique elections, but we are still here to talk about it, referring to our America and progressing as a nation.

But the important story is that some are saying that the country will forever be divided and we will never heal.  I am here to tell you that during my life I have seen the country split because of Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, The Cold War, and Worldwide Terrorism.  I have seen the protests in this country on TV and in real life and it sometimes made me wonder if we would ever heal.  The injustices that erupted, and have been quelled through both good and bad Presidents have not soured our national pride.  We still cheer our USA teams, we are proud of our military (something that was completely different then when I first started in the military), and the country is coming to grips with a variety of economic and social issues.  I remember a phrase about “it takes a village” and I never agreed with that when it came to the US.  “It takes a nation.”    A nation of people who are comfortable enough to know that they can march in protest without fear of retribution; a nation of people that are not put down because of who they voted for in ANY election; a nation of people that respect each others opinions.  It is only then that we can heal this nation and move on.  We have done it before and we will do it again.

Finally, the idea that elections are fair is like saying the stock market is always down (or up).  The bottom line is that everything in politics turns around.  I mean if you look at Presidential elections back 200 years ago you see the election of 1800 when another election was in contest (http://history1800s.about.com/od/presidentialcampaigns/a/electionof1876.htm).  This one ultimately ended with Jefferson taking the Presidency even though he was declared an “Un-Christian Deist.”  However, more tragically was that the person who would support him in Congress, Alexander Hamilton, would later shoot and kill Aaron Burr (Thomas Jefferson’s Vice President) in a duel.

Still think the election is unfair?  Take a look at Harry Truman, who was basically told by the media that he would lose (sound familiar?).  The outcome was very different, with him winning and holding a headline from a paper that would “jump the gun.”  What happened?  Biased sampling leading to biased results (again, sound familiar?).  This biased sampling is summarized very well in this article: https://www.math.upenn.edu/~deturck/m170/wk4/lecture/case2.html.  The bottom line is this:  the bias of a human is something is both unavoidable in the type of sampling done for the Truman/Dewey contest.  If you place a human in the process of choosing who to survey, you are instituting a bias that is very similar to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.  Heisenberg’s theory contains the basic philosophy that when we attempt to observe, we actually influence, the event (http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/science-questions/quantum-suicide2.htm).  It is evident that humans were involved in the surveys of the election of 1948 and the current one.  The biases are there for the current one:  why would anyone state that they were going to vote for Trump, given the overall feelings about him?  That, in itself, biased the sampling.  The result is that he was elected, using the rules of the Electoral College to defeat his opponent.  The more we try to observe, the more we influence.

I know this has been a long article and I apologize.  I have been thinking about this for several months and wanted to finally get my feelings on paper.  The statistics, the data, the surveying, all of this are part of the overall look at this election, but it is people, history, and political uniqueness (or perceived uniqueness) that makes this interesting.

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2 thoughts on “Screwy Presidential Election? – It’s Happened Before!!

  1. Thanks for an informed, objective review of the election and the part played by the electoral college. Our Founding Fathers were wise to implement such a system, and their wisdom was born out yet again this past election cycle. Keep up the great analysis. Merry Christmas to you, Kathy, and the family.

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