In a pessimistic take on the upcoming presidential race, Norman J. Ornstein, an election analyst for CBS News, said a close election could result in chaos on Nov. 2.
In a lecture at the Yale Law School yesterday, Ornstein and Yale political science professor Donald Green offered their opinions on likely voting trends on election day in light of the highly polarized political environment in the United States. Neither predicted a definite victory for President George W. Bush ’68 or Sen. John Kerry ’66.
Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, began his address by saying it is impossible to rely on linear projections for the outcome of the election because polls are unpredictable and the election could easily swing either way. He said America has become a “45-45-10 nation,” an extraordinarily even balance that has been building for a decade and is unusual for American politics.
“This is an event-driven environment,” he said. “The impact on the election that any number of events could have in the next 13 days makes it impossible for me to tell what will occur.”
He said although the election is extremely competitive, in certain states the outcome is already decided by traditional voting trends. More money is going into these campaigns than ever before, Ornstein said, but it is all being concentrated in only eight to 10 states — which could lead to unexpected voter turnout and result in one candidate’s winning the popular vote but losing the electoral vote, as happened in the previous presidential election.
“If that happens, it is more likely to happen to Bush,” he said.
In addition, Ornstein said the definite winner may not be declared until two or three weeks later because more people are voting early, and mail-in ballots are not counted until after the polls close. He said that a close election could result in recounts and lawsuits that would drag on for weeks.
Ornstein said that he is “scared to death” right now of the effects of Nov. 2, especially because voters are already sharply divided along partisan lines and are mistrustful of the election system.
“We are headed for a potentially poisonous environment that will make 1876 and 2000 look reasonable by comparison,” he said. “Go to sleep each night praying that it is not a close election.”
Green, the director of the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale, spoke after Ornstein. He said the unusually stable partisan constituencies have encouraged both parties to opt for voter mobilization instead of voter persuasion as their campaign strategies. Since most voters have already decided on a candidate, Green said, the main focus is now on voter turnout.
“The winner will really be whoever brings the most troops to the battlefield,” he said.
Unlike Ornstein, Green said he thinks it is unlikely the election will be as close as the previous election, but he said he is still unsure of the outcome.
“Even if the election now is only based on random events, it is extremely unlikely that we’ll come down to the razor-thin margin that we saw before,” he said. “[But] the election at this point is not much different than a coin toss. It’s too close to call.”
Yale Law School dean Harold Koh added a lighter note to the discussion of election concerns.
“On everyone’s minds are two questions: first, who will make it to the World Series, and second, who will win the presidential election?” he said.