The Five Crucial Geographic Regions Needed To Win the Presidency

 Why Bush Needed Ohio to Win, but Kerry needed Florida and Iowa or New Mexico.  The Genius and Necessity of the Electoral College

    It is obvious that the United States is not a perfect democracy.  The United States Senate, where every state has the same number of Senators regardless of population, was designed, among other things, to represent the land mass of the nation in its decision-making. 

    The House of Representatives is apportioned according to population and theoretically makes everyone equal, even though, in fact, some representatives can win election with 40,000 votes, while others need 200,000.

    The Electoral College, used to choose the president, is a hybrid of the two.  It represents the land, like the Senate and votes as a unit, but the number of votes is weighted according to population.  Its purpose is to keep the selection of the president in the hands of the states and out of the hands of the federal government, in addition to forcing the chief executive to have widespread support in the country.

   A European traveler once said, "The United States is not a country, it's a continent."  The 2004 election shows that at the moment it is at least two countries and really five. 

     The land mass has bodies of water marking international boundaries in the north, south, east and west.  In the north are the five great Lakes which mark a boundary with Canada, in the east, the Atlantic Ocean separating the United States from Europe, in the south there is the Gulf of Mexico setting the country off from Central America and the Caribbean Sea; and the Pacific Ocean in the west looking toward Asia.

   Every state that Kerry carried on election day borders an international body of water.  Even Vermont borders Lake Champlain, which reaches up into Canada.  Lake Champlain, like Lake Erie, was the site of some naval battles during the War of 1812.  So Vermont is, in political effect if not in geographic fact, one of the Great Lake States.  Only the District of Columbia, which is not a state, but is actually part of the Maryland land mass, does not exactly fit the criteria, but does functionally.

   Bush carried all the southeastern states from Virginia to Texas, which gave him states bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.  Although he lost California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, he carried Alaska, which gave him presence on the Pacific Ocean.  Bush won states bordering bodies of water in the east, south, and west; but if he had not carried Ohio, he would not have been able to have a state bordering an international body of water in the north.  That is why Bush could not win without Ohio.  

        Kerry's states border the bodies of water in the north, east and west; but he won nothing in the south, on the Gulf of Mexico.  And Kerry could not win without a state on the Gulf Coast.  That is why the two big swing states were Florida and Ohio.  Ohio was Bush's best chance to win a state bordering on the Great Lakes, and Florida and Louisiana were Kerry's best chances to win a state bordering on the Gulf of Mexico.

   This also explains why Kerry lost Iowa and New Mexico, because only by losing Iowa and New Mexico, which Gore carried in 2000, would he be shut out of the landlocked states.  It is no coincidence that this pattern resulted from a candidate whose father was a professional diplomat and who lived abroad a lot during his youth.

   That's why in 2000, the election hinged on Florida.  Without Florida, Gore had no states bordering the Gulf of Mexico.  In 1992, when Clinton defeated Bush I, lonely Louisiana was his only state on the Gulf Coast.

   To demonstrate how important this distribution is, Mike Dukakis, in the 1988 presidential race, carried only 10 states plus the District of Columbia.  Still, among the 10 was Hawaii Washington and Oregon on the Pacific in the west, Wisconsin and Minnesota on the Great Lakes in the north; Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island on the Atlantic Ocean, and West Virginia and Iowa as the landlocked states.  Dukakis was shut out of the Gulf Coast, also.

   Even pathetic Jimmy Carter, who only carried six states in his drubbing by Ronald Reagan in 1980, had geographical distribution.  He carried Hawaii in the west, Minnesota on the Great Lakes, Rhode Island and Maryland (plus D.C.) on the Atlantic, West Virginia for the landlocked states, and his home state of Georgia in the south, on the Atlantic, but not quite on the Gulf of Mexico.  When there are five criteria: north, east, south, west and landlocked; and a candidate carries only 6 states, but fulfills 4 of the 5 criteria, well, that's mighty fancy voting.

   In 1976, when Carter defeated Ford, the same pattern was evident in both their states.  Ford lost because he was shut out of the Gulf Coast.

   So, the Gulf Coast states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida need to be included in future analyses of presidential elections as a distinctly important section of the country along with the east coast, the mid-west Great Lake states, the west coast and the landlocked.  No presidential candidate can win without at least one state in each category. 

    And the categories are approximately equal in size.  The five Gulf Coast states have 85 electoral votes;  the 13 Atlantic Ocean states have 141 electoral votes; the five West Coast states have 80; the seven Great Lakes states have 111 (114 if Vermont is included); the 19 landlocked states have 116 electoral votes and the District of Columbia has 3.

    This pattern of geographic distribution holds even in second order candidates, the independents who win only a small percentage of the vote, but carry no states and win no electoral votes.  The issue with minor candidates is, "Is their vote total bigger than the margin between the two major candidates?"  If it is, then they might have made a difference in the outcome.  If it isn't, then the could not have made a difference.

    In 1976, Eugene McCarthy, who, as an anti-Vietnam War candidate in the 1968 Democratic primaries, was given credit for ousting President Lyndon Johnson, ran as an independent.  McCarthy received only 756,691 votes nationwide, 0.9%, less than half of Carter's plurality of 1,682,970.  Yet, McCarthy's vote totals were more than the margin between Carter and Ford in 5 states: Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Oregon.  So, when the voters can not reward a candidate with a lot of votes, or by winning any states, they give distribution.  These results show that McCarthy ran a national campaign of some significance.  In spite of the small number of votes, they were strategically placed.

    The same can be said for Ralph Nader's candidacy in 2000.  Although people endlessly blamed Nader for Gore's defeat in 2000, the numbers do not support that contention.  Nader's votes exceeded the margin between Bush and Gore in only 8 states: Florida, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin.  Here again, the five crucial geographic areas are represented in Nader's states; Florida on the Gulf Coast, New Hampshire and Maine on the Atlantic, Minnesota and Wisconsin on the Great Lakes, Oregon on the Pacific coast and Iowa and New Mexico for the landlocked states.  

    Gore carried every one of the eight except Florida and New Hampshire.  Gore's loss of Florida was due to the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County, the unprecedented intervention of the Supreme Court in the election, and Gore's unilateral altering of the Constitution by accepting the Supreme Court decision rather than fighting for his victory all the way through the electoral college and the congress, as provided by the Constitution.     

   The United States is a big country.  Geographical distribution is important.  The founding fathers felt that the nation could be attacked from any direction, north, east, south and west.  With only one Commander-in-Chief, it was essential that he have a consciousness and knowledge of all sections of the country. 

   That's why, in an election where the turnout increased by 10 million votes nationwide; 900,000 of those votes came in Ohio, a state Bush had to carry, and 1,360,000 came in Florida.  Ohio and Florida, with 8.7% of the electoral votes, attracted almost 24% of the increase in voter turnout.  The reason is that it is important to the almost 300,000,000 people in the United States that the President have an understanding of both the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.  

    Abolishing the Electoral College would pose grave risks to the decision-making processes in the United States.  For a president to govern all the people he must be knowledgeable about all the sections of the country.

Copyright by Joshua Leinsdorf, 2004.

Return to Institute of Election Analysis Website

Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf