Monday, December 23, 2002

HOW TO ANNOY WITH STATISTICS: New Republic editor Martin Peretz gives Al Gore a graceful send-off -- but can't resist rattling off this tiresome statistic:

With Gore out of the running, an ambitious group of Democrats have the field to themselves. None of the contenders has as much popular support as Gore--who, after all, won more votes in 2000 than any presidential candidate in U.S. history except Ronald Reagan.

Peretz actually goes on to make several valid observations, amply making the case that the American political arena is a poorer place with Al Gore no longer part of it -- but this silly statistic "...won more votes than any candidate except Reagan..." is utterly meaningless, and ought to be hastily retired, right along with all those media fabrications about Gore's having "invented" the Internet and whatnot.

How so? The size of the American electorate increases every year. Therefore, any Presidential candidate who either narrowly wins or narrowly loses an election, in any given year, is bound to have amassed more votes than very nearly any candidate in any previous close election.

That Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide vote (from among a smaller pool of voters) exceeded Gore's narrow "win/loss" 16 years later is a testament only to the failure of Walter Mondale to fashion himself into a remotely electable centrist candidate -- not of Gore's (or even Reagan's) inherent populism.

For Gore to have claimed serious bragging rights in 2000, the important statistic would have been: What percentage of the electorate cast their vote for Gore?

And unfortunately, that number -- 48% -- puts him in league with a great many more losers than winners.


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