Election 2024: Closer, And Less Important, Than You Probably Think

Depending on whom you listen to about the constantly shifting horse race we call a US presidential election, either Joe Biden or Donald Trump is always ahead or behind by a nose … nationally. For example, a March 7-13 Ipsos/Reuters poll has Biden at 39% and Trump at 38%, while a March 10-12 Yougov/Economist poll shows Trump at 44% and Biden at 42%.

Among the many problems with national polling the single biggest one is that presidential elections aren’t national. Winning a state by one individual vote brings with it as many electoral votes as winning it by a million individual votes. It’s theoretically possible to win the presidency with only 23% of individual votesĀ  cast nationwide. In practice, the differential between popular and electoral victory is never THAT wide, but it remains the case that national polling tells us little about the likely outcome.

Presidential elections almost always come down to a handful of states, and often to razor-thin margins in those states. In 2000, one state (Florida) and 537 individual votes (officially, anyway) settled the matter. The last two US presidential elections have been decided by less than 100,00 individual votes each in a few “swing” states.

Based on “solid,” “likely,” and “leaning” numbers, the site 270 To Win shows Joe Biden with 267 electoral votes pretty much in pocket, Trump with 219. Whoever hits 270 wins the election.

Unless something changes dramatically in the next eight months, which is quite possible, the election will be decided in four “toss-up” states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Biden can win the election with any one of them. Trump has to take all four.

There’s every chance that this election, like the previous two, will come down to a pool of voters ranging from “fairly large town” to “fairly small city” in size. It’s also quite possible that the winner will receive fewer votes nationwide than the winner.

If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound much like “democracy,” feel free to moan about the unfairness of the electoral college system. It won’t do you any good, but feel free anyway.

When you’re done moaning, consider this:

None of the candidates, nor anyone else, is qualified to rule “the United States,” or the people who live here.

That’s true regardless of HOW the ruler is chosen, and it doesn’t really matter much WHICH ruler is chosen.

Instead of worrying about who wins the presidency, we should be figuring out how to do away with the whole circus.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.