John Anderson, a moderate Republican congressman back in the day when there still were moderate Republicans, ran for President in 1980 against the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, the Democrat, and the Republican standard-bearer, Ronald Reagan. Of course, the former actor and California governor beat the former peanut farmer and Georgia governor by over 8.4 million votes cast.
Reagan also won an absolute majority of the voters (50.75%) to 41.01% for Carter. Anderson, who died recently, received 6.61% of the ballots. And 1.63% of the people, including, BTW, me, voted for someone else. So those who oppose the Electoral College – the system where all electoral votes go to each state winner – should be satisfied with the results, right?
But under the EC rules, was John Anderson really a spoiler, as some have suggested? 270 electoral votes are needed to be elected.
States won by Carter: DC-3, GA-12, HI-4, MD-10, MN-10, RI-4, WV-6 = 49 electoral votes.
States won by Reagan with more than 50% of the vote: AK-3, AZ-6, CA-45, CO-7, FL-17, ID-4, IN-13, IA-8, IA-8, KS-7, LA-10, MO-12, MT-4, NE-5, NV-3, NH-4, NJ-17, NM-4, ND-3, OH-25, OK-8, SD-4, TX-26, UT-4, VA-12, WY-3 = 263 electoral votes.
So if you add the states where the difference between Reagan votes and Carter votes is greater than the Anderson votes, the Republican easily hits 270. In Alabama, for instance, Reagan bat Carter 48.75% to 47.45%, a difference of only 1.3%. But Anderson only managed to scrape up 1.23% of the votes, with others garnering 2.57%. 9 electoral votes to the Republican anyway.
Anderson did very well in the Pacific Northwest, getting 9.51% of the vote in Oregon and 10.62% in Washington. Yet the difference between Reagan and Carter was 9.66% and 12.34% respectively, meaning those 6 and 9 electoral votes were destined for the GOP column.
Even Illinois, Anderson’s home state, fell into that column. Reagan, who grew up in the Land of Lincoln, got 49.65% of the vote compared with Carter’s 41.72%. Anderson’s 7.3% is less than the 7.93% of the major party candidates. 26 electoral votes solid for the Gipper.
This is not to say Anderson wasn’t a spoiler in some states. In New York, Reagan beat Carter by 2.67% but Anderson got 7.54% of the votes. AR, CT, DE, KY, ME, MA, MI, MS, NC, TN, VT, and WI theoretically COULD have gone to Carter if it weren’t for Anderson. It would not have mattered to the outcome.