Briefing Paper No. 59

Lessons of Election 2000

Executive Summary

Many people believe that Election 2000 proved only how divided the nation is over politics and policy. In contrast, this study draws six lessons from Election 2000.

  • Congress should set up a commission to recommend changes in the electoral system; the states should have the choice of accepting the reforms and the obligation to pay for them.
  • The Electoral College should be preserved. The framers designed the Electoral College to limit arbitrary power. Abolishing the Electoral College would weaken the states and damage federalism.
  • The United States is a consitutional republic, not a regime based on “the will of the people.” Several politicians have appealed to the will of the people in the Florida struggle. The will of the people is a concept alien to the American political tradition of limited constitutional government.
  • Underlying public attitudes strongly supported limited government in Election 2000. Both the platforms of the candidates and public opinion polls indicate that the public’s skepticism about government remains high.
  • Campaign spending enhanced turnout and participation in Election 2000. Both the NAACP and unions spent lavishly on getting out the vote. If campaign spending is restricted, turnout will fall, contrary to the professed desire of advocates of capaign finance restrictions.
  • Congress should not hold hearings about media mistakes. Any punishment for errors or bias by the networks on election night should be left to public opinion.

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John Samples is director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Representative Government; Tom G. Palmer is fellow in social thought at Cato; and Patrick Basham is senior fellow at the Center for Representative Government.