Why Elections Are So Close

Obama will probably win, but will he get more than 60% of the popular vote? Going by history and by the current polls, probably not. Why not? Generally speaking: what are the Democratic and Republican parties, that cycle after cycle they each garner close to 50% of the vote?

Maybe the question almost answers itself and maybe it's been answered much better than I can, but I'm going to spell out my half-baked theory. First I'm going to rule out what I think is a wrong answer: there aren't, to begin with, two kinds of American in about equal numbers, with the Democratic party arising as the representative of the Democratic type of person.

Rather, each party is a heterogeneous coalition of diverse interests, and the coalition grows or shrinks according to the following principles: if the coalition is too small to win elections, then the coalition will seek out new members, granting concessions to the new members in exchange for their support. But the larger the coalition is, the weaker each interest group in the coalition is within the coalition, and this motivates the members of the coalition to try to expel other members, so as to increase their own influence within the coalition.

These two principles lead to the result that the Republicans and the Democrats are about equally large at any given time. If (say) the Republicans drop to 40% and the Democrats rise to 60%, then in the hope of winning future elections the Republicans will seek to expand the party by granting concessions to new interest groups. Meanwhile, the Democrats, victory assured in the near future, will struggle among themselves over the spoils of victory, and the losers will see little value in remaining within the coalition.

For a variety of reasons, members of each party will take up each other's cause, so that what started as a heterogeneous group of diverse interests will become a more homogeneous-seeming group in which each member espouses a diverse and probably incoherent mix of ideas, an ersatz ideology, which is liable to shift over time as interest groups enter and exit the party.

Of course some states of the Union are heavily Democratic and some are heavily Republican. On the surface this might seem to contradict my thesis, but I conjecture that, were the states to secede from the Union, then within the state the two parties (or whatever remained) would evolve to the point that they were about equally able to win votes. Individual states are heavily Democratic (or Republican) because they happen to be heavily made up of members of the national Democratic (or Republican) Party. We might even so expect that, state by state, the parties seek out (or expel) coalition members depending on their strength within the state, so that they each take on a slightly different flavor state by state. We might, for example, expect Massachusetts Democrats to be more liberal than Texas Democrats. (Though the category "liberal" might itself be susceptible to a similar analysis as the category "Democrat".)

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close because little difference between them

Follow the money. A Republican knows he will do OK under Obama. A Democrat knows he will do OK under McCain. Both know that if either candidate is elected and stir to hard he will go the way of Lincoln, JFK, and Bobby.

I don't think that really explains it

Closeness of policy does not really explain close elections. These are both examples of closeness, but the one doesn't connect all that well to the other. Closeness of policy is consistent with 90% of Americans being (slightly) in favor of the Democrats and 10% being (slightly) in favor of the Republicans, or vice versa. It doesn't really do very much to explain a nearly 50/50 split.

You failed to mentioin the elephant in the room...gender

I find your ommission of gender as a discussion point to be telling.

As an accountant, I cannot understand how the results are consistently 51 to 49%, or even closer.

To continually achieve these results, it has to be a fixed game, or a gender distribution.

It is impossible to explain such close results without thoroughly analyzing fraud, or gender impact on the outcome.

Sincerely,

Questioner

The same people own both major parties

and control the vote counting machinery. If the last presidential election demonstrates anything, it is that Obama was "bought" before he was nominated. Or maybe the Joint Chief whispers, "You want us to save a place in the bunker for your kids when we start WW3?"