Was it the Guardian wot won it for Bush?

I just had a discussion about Operation Clark County, that fatuous attempt by the London-based Socialist-leaning Guardian newspaper, to persuade Ohio voters to back John Kerry in the November 2 election. The question being considered was: did the Guardian (nicknamed the Grauniad for its frequent typographical errors and its leftist obsessions) win the presidential election (accidentally) for George Bush? In 1992, the Sun newspaper proclaimed on its front page after the fourth consecutive defeat for the British Labour Party that "It Was the Sun Wot Won It". Did the Guardian's patronizing meddling produce a similar, if unintended effect?

The set-up was as follows. The Guardian calculated (correctly) that Ohio would be a key state in the presidential election. Ian Katz and Oliver Burkeman, the 'geniuses' behind the campaign selected Clark County on the basis that Al Gore had supposedly won that county by a mere 324 votes or 1%. The Guardian also claimed that George W Bush had won Ohio by 4%, but that polls were showing a tight race with a virtual dead heat expected.

The truth was slightly different. Clark County did go for Gore, but only by 0.56%, and Bush won Ohio by 3.51% in 2000. So the background information was slightly wrong to begin with.

Robin Grant of perfect.co.uk, went one better, not only claiming to have set up the campaign but actually collecting local press coverage, including expressions of outrage from Clark County residents. Grant's smug chuckles at the right-wing bloggers look funny now, but not the way that he had intended.

The result of thousands of Guardian readers sending letters to independent voters in Clark County was nothing less than dramatic. The campaign, despite being a "roaring success" was cancelled as soon as letters began to arrive in Ohio.

A typical report of the time reads:
The Springfield News-Sun also received about a dozen e-mails, starting early in the day, about the Guardian campaign, from places as diverse as New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Alaska and Switzerland, almost all of which expressed some degree of outrage.

The local paper ran a story with the headline "Butt out Brits, voters say". USA Today describing the Guardian as a "left-leaning newspaper", poured scorn on the campaign, portraying it as at best a publicity stunt.

Both local Republican and Democrat campaigns described the move as self-defeating. The scorecard shows the cost of Operation Clark County to John Kerry's hopes of winning Ohio.

Clark County20042000


Republican majority or deficit (%)
Ohio+2.12+3.510.7% to Democrat
Clark County+0.56-2.041.3% to Republican

So the Guardian swing was 2.0% from the Democrats to Bush. Clark County was the only Ohio county to switch from a Democrat majority in 2000 to a Republican one in 2004. In fact such a swing only occurred in 5% of the whole country's 3,113 counties according to USA Today. If we imagine what effect Operation Clark County might have had if the Guardian had run it across the whole of the USA we get some startling results.

Kerry would have failed to win the only State to switch his way from 2000, New Hampshire with 4 electoral college votes. Worse still, Michigan (17 votes), Minnesota (10), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (21) and Wisconsin (10) would all have fallen to the Republican onslaught if the Guardian effect had been felt in those states. The final outcome would have been a 355 to 183 electoral college massacre for Senator Kerry.

It gets worse.

The Guardian ended up giving out contact details for 14,000 voters out of the 56,000 originally planned for. If these had been sent and they had achieved the same scale of effect then the swing would have been eight per cent more to Bush. So a nationwide Guardian campaign could have given a further eight states totalling 130 electoral college votes for Bush. At 485 to 53, the Democratic Party can only pray that next time round no progressive billionaire pays for such an operation.

The short answer to the original question is 'No', Operation Clark County cannot be credited with finding the 118,775 votes for George Bush that got him re-elected. In the event, the entire voting population of Clark County going for John Kerry would not have been enough. But the margin of victory, which encouraged Senator Kerry to concede gracefully on November 3, might not have been there without the efforts of Guardian readers. I understand that the local Republican campaign office wrote a letter of thanks to the Guardian.

One final question. Did the Guardian pay for the copy of the electoral roll, or do the taxpayers of Clark County have to find an extra $25? I hope Mr Katz pays up. It's the least he can do for the 'impoverished' masses of Ohio.

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