The 2012 Presidential election is shaping up to be one of the closest in our nation’s history. It’s beginning to seem like tradition that election results come right down to the bitter end. As of today, election eve, most national polls are showing President Obama with a slight edge over challenger and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. But based on history, that’s subject to change.
America is no stranger to election controversies. There have been a number of presidential races that came down to the wire, much like this one will. It’s almost as if election-day disputes are embedded in our DNA and that we should expect them every few elections or so. There have been corrupt incumbents vying for a second term, underdog challengers pulling off upset victories, and opponents who were so juxtaposed that it rendered America undecided and re-votes were cast. Candidates have won the popular vote but lost the electoral college and it doesn’t matter. In the end it’s the electoral college that decides, but shouldn’t whomever gets the most votes by the most people be the winner? Exactly, we’re even still trying to wrap our heads around it.
In light of election 2012, here’s a list of some of the closest elections in history:
This is probably one of the most infamous elections we’ve ever had and certainly is the closest in recent history. The big controversy came from Florida where timezone misinterpretations led to serious problems. Many of the major TV networks reported that Florida polls closed at 7:00 p.m. ET. However, the panhandle region which usually votes republican is situated in the Central time zone leading to mass confusion as to when people of that area could still actually vote. This led to a decisive Gore victory but many pundits speculated that the panhandle vote could equal the vote of the rest of the state. Roughly 15,000 people were unable to vote due to the mix up and recounts were undertaken as a result.
As if Florida didn’t have enough problems to deal with, Palm Beach County issued butterfly ballots which led to more confusion. In this situation, many people actually voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Gore or Bush. Normally it wouldn’t be an issue for people to vote for a lesser known candidate, but the votes for Buchanan in that county were so high in fact that it prompted many to take a look at his standing throughout all of Florida. It became apparent that the ballots were so confusing to many that Buchanan’s percentage in Palm Beach County were not in line with the rest of the state’s.
This election, though probably less recognized for its controversy, was certainly one of the closest ever. It pinned John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon. Nixon had already served as Vice President to Dwight Eisenhower over the course of two terms while Kennedy had spent some time in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Nixon seemed locked in for a seat in the White House but Kennedy outflanked the Navy vet.
Nixon had spent a lot of time campaigning in all 50 states while Kennedy focused solely on the swing states. On top of that, an emerging recession didn’t bode well for the GOP. But Kennedy wielded his campaign prowess to its full extent. With a hefty bankroll and plenty of connections, Kennedy was able to secure the vote among Catholics and the 17 million more people registered as democrats. Kennedy’s running mate, Lyndon Johnson, helped him secure the southern vote. In the end, Kennedy won 303 of the electoral votes compared to Nixon’s 219. Even closer was the popular vote, though, with Kennedy eking out a .2% lead.
Not necessarily one of the closest elections, but certainly among the most controversial. In this political contest, Andrew Jackson was favored against opponent John Quincy Adams. Jackson ended up winning the popular vote by far, campaigning for the “common man,” though he didn’t snag the majority of electoral votes needed for a concise victory. The standings came in as (most votes to least) Jackson, Adams, William Crawford, and Henry Clay. Clay was subsequently dropped once nobody took a majority of electoral votes but Crawford dropped out of the race due to health reasons.
Cue the dirty politics. Clay happened to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time and when it came to be just Jackson and Adams as candidates, the tie-breaking vote was sent to the House. One of the biggest corrupt bargains was born as Adams allegedly bribed Clay with a cabinet position (Secretary of State) in return for his vote. Adams eventually won but not to be outdone, Jackson would come roaring back four years later and take the seat he thought was rightfully his.
This election on America’s centennial was riddled with controversy and was also extremely close. Rutherford B. Hayes from Ohio snatched the presidency right out of New Yorker Samuel Tilden’s hands. It appeared early on that Tilden would win, having 19 more electoral votes than Hayes. But when a combined 20 votes from Oregon, Florida, and South Carolina were figured to be rigged, or at least confusing (see a trend here?), another corrupt deal was struck.
In exchange for the 20 electoral votes, Hayes promised to remove all federal troops from the South. This was a big deal as the south was in a reconstruction era from the preceding Civil War. Hayes was able to snag the votes, one more than Tilden, for the win but his popular vote consisted of only 47.9% while Tilden’s was a whopping 51%. Of the election, Tilden was quoted saying, “I can retire to public life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office.”
This election is noteworthy because like many of the ones listed above, one candidate won the popular vote but lost the electoral college vote. In this case, Benjamin Harrison (the only President to have a grandfather serve too) narrowly defeated incumbent Grover Cleveland. The biggest issues revolved around big business as industrialists favored high tariffs and opponents thought it was unfair to the consumer. Perhaps in keeping with the trend of making elections a nail-biting experience, Harrison sided with the industrialists and Cleveland with the masses. It proved to be Cleveland’s mistake as he ended up losing, though not for good.
Harrison won the electoral vote by barely grabbing an electoral win in Cleveland’s home state of New York. Cleveland led in the popular vote over Benjamin Harrison, 48.6 percent to 47.8 percent, but Harrison won the electoral college by a 233-168 margin. Had Cleveland taken New York, it would have been a very different story. He would have won the electoral vote by a count of 204-197. Though no crooked deals were made in this election, the people would eventually have the final say by electing Cleveland again to office as the only president to win and serve two non-consecutive terms.
As you can see, closeness in elections are just as American as the elections themselves. We can only hope that politicos and pundits have learned from history and can avoid the same mistakes that have plagued past presidential elections. But nothing’s perfect. It seems only fitting that this election will take the same course as its predecessors in that both candidates, while vastly different, are also eerily similar in terms of what they want to accomplish for our nation. Be sure to double-check who you vote for tomorrow before casting that ballot, or we could have a very close and possibly controversial election on our hands. Currently, Obama has anywhere from a 47% lead to upwards of 50% but that’s likely to change depending on your source. For example Massachusetts, a true blue state, has Obama ahead of Romney with a 59% lead. But it’s important to note that these polls are simply numbers, indicators of what could possibly happen. At this juncture, the only thing we can know for sure is there’s no clear-cut leader in this race and we likely won’t be able to tell until the final vote is cast.