Close elections: They seem to be popping up all over. Earlier this month, in Mexico, Felipe Calderon, candidate of President Vicente Fox's PAN party, was declared the winner over left-winger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, winning 36 percent of the vote to Obrador's 35 percent. Earlier this year, in Italy, incumbent Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition lost to former Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left coalition by a popular vote margin of about 22,000 votes. Canada and Germany have governments headed by leaders of center-right parties that have only a plurality of parliamentary seats and came in ahead of their center-left predecessors by small margins. And, of course, in the United States, we have President George W. Bush, who was first elected in 2000 after a 36-day controversy over the results in Florida where he won by less than 1,000 votes of nearly 6 million cast.
Is this a trend? One thoughtful observer, blogger Lexington Green of chicagoboyz.net, notes that "The current technology provides the managers of campaigns [with the means] to do focus-grouping and constant polling and ads made to respond to minute changes in the opinion of the electorate, and to use computers to identify areas where the vote needs to be gotten out, and all kinds of things I don't know about." He goes on to ask, "Can it be that the tools are so refined that they are getting better and better at finding the marginal voter in the center, and that we are likely to have an increasing number of very, very close elections?"
Possibly. But close party divisions are nothing new. In the United States, from the end of the Civil War until the big Republican sweep in the congressional elections of 1894, the margins between the parties were very close indeed. In that age, long before computers, Republicans held the presidency most of the time (twice while losing the popular vote), while Democrats held a majority of seats in the House most of the time. With few exceptions, neither party got much more than 50 percent of the popular vote in presidential or House elections. This deadlock persisted for almost 30 years.