Alabama and the 1960 Popular Vote

I have received several emails with regard to this article from the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal. The article makes an argument that JFK lost the popular vote to Richard Nixon in the election of 1960. The basis of the argument is not about the alleged fraud in Illinois and Texas, but rather that it is not correct to assign all of the popular votes for Alabama’s Presidential Electors to Kennedy because six of the eleven electors were officially not pledged to Kennedy. The facts of the article are mostly correct – Alabama held a primary to determine which Democratic Presidential Electors would appear on the ballot. The result, was a ticket with split loyalties – six of the eleven Electors were “unpledged” and the remaining five were “loyalists” pledged to Kennedy (this was a different situation than in Louisiana and Mississippi – where the Unpledged Electors were on a separate ticket than the Democratic Electors).

One inaccuracy in the article is the statement that the Nixon “Slate” defeated the Democratic “Slate” 324,050 to 237,981. In fact, the citizens did not vote for the electors as a slate, but actually cast eleven ballots for not more than eleven electors (if someone wanted to vote for the six unpledged electors and five of the Republican ones, they could. If they wanted to vote for just one elector, they could). The result of this voting method produced varying totals; the difference between the highest and lowest electors is about seven thousand votes (see table below).

Alabama Election Results – 1960

Frank M. Dixon U 324,050 Cecil Durham R 237,981
Bruce Henderson U 323,018 C.H. Chapman, Jr. R 237,370
Edmund Blair U 322,593 W.H. Gillespie R 236,915
C.E. Hornsby, Jr. U 322,124 J.N. Dennis R 236,765
W.W. Malone, Jr. U 322,084 Robert S. Cartledge R 236,110
Frank Mizell U 320,957 W.J. Kennamer R 235,414
C.G. Allen D 318,303 Perry O. Hooper R 234,976
C.L. Beard D 318,266 Tom McNaron R 234,856
J.E. Brantley D 317,226 Mrs. John Simpson R 234,002
Dave Archer D 317,171 T.B. Thompson R 233,450
Karl Harrison D 316,934 George Witcher R 230,951

Unpledged: Max: 324,050; Mean: 322,471; 6/11: 175,893
Democratic: Max: 318,303; Mean: 317,580; 5/11: 144,355
Republican: Max: 237,981; Mean: 235,345; 11/11: 235,345

So, the question is, how does one fairly allocate the popular vote in Alabama in 1960? Typically, most sources that I have seen give Kennedy 324,050, the highest total of the eleven electors. However, the elector whom received that total, Frank M. Dixon, was one of those not pledged to Kennedy. The highest vote total for a Kennedy elector was 318,303 (C.G. Allen). There are several ways that the results can be allocated with math (mean, median, 5/11 for Kennedy, 6/11 for Unpledged, etc.). These would all result in different totals and, from some perspective, be correct (its the “all-of-the-above” choice). The real total would be to determine the intent of the voters. When a citizen cast his/her ballot for each elector, was that citizen choosing Kennedy or Not Kennedy (some conservative democrat not yet named). Unfortunately, we can never know.

The point I would like to make about the national popular vote, is that it does not matter. The “game” isn’t played that way. As for an analogy, I haven’t seen anybody up in arms and complaining that the Yankees rightfully won the World Series in 2003 because they scored more runs (21 – 17). The Marlins won the most games… and are therefore the winners. The US Presidential Election is about winning electoral votes (which, today, translates to winning the popular vote within each state – with exception of Maine and Nebraska where a candidate’s electors are chosen by a plurality of the popular vote within each congressional district). The players understand this and execute their game plans accordingly. If the national popular vote was the actual metric by which they would win, then the campaigns would execute their plans very differently than they do today – leading to a different outcome.

5 thoughts on “Alabama and the 1960 Popular Vote

  1. Cowboy Kahlil

    Your analysis is correct. If the WSJ wants to speculate about the popular vote, I’d say it should also include speculation of the outcome if the South wasn’t excluding so many Blacks.

    Or is the WSJ only interested in defining the popular bigot vote?

  2. Dave

    Interesting article. I think this is only relevant because so many people, including professional news organizations, continue to state that Kennedy won the election by 100,000 votes -referring to the popular vote totals. I think it’s journalistic laziness.

  3. Eric

    Your comparison of the Electoral College to the World Series does have one flaw, however. The games of the World Series are staged in succession, whereas all of the States in the Presidential Election vote on the same day. Thus, once a team is relatively assured victory in a game, they would have little incentive to rest their best players and not continue to try to score runs in the game after that point, whereas in the Presidential Election there is not nearly as much certainty of carrying a state since the degree of certainty of carrying the state and thus the point at which there is no more incentive to pursue additional votes is only based on the polls and not on an actual vote count, as would be the case in the analogy of the baseball game. The individual games of the World Series are a set of discrete events, whereas the Presidetial Election is a national poll conducted on the same day.
    You are correct that candidates alter their strategy somewhat depending on what states are certain and which are not, and thus the results would be different under a different election system. However, it seems to me that the World Series analogy would fit in more with the Presidential primary system than the Presidential Election. The nationwide popular vote total in the Primaries is obviously not an accurate reflector of national strength since the results of earlier races affect later races, and this phenonemon could also occur in the World Series, but not in the Presidential Election.

  4. Bob

    Because voters did not have the opportunity to vote for either a candidate or an entire electoral slate, maybe the Alabama popular vote should be disregarded. Generally, in states who have multiple-seat legislative districts, there is no attempt to aggregate a “statewide” popular vote, as that vote would be misleading.

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