Keech & Matthews on the Republican 1964 primary – failure of plurality voting

William R. Keech (later a professor of political science at UNC Chapel Hill and later Carnegie Mellon University) gave a presentation at the 1972 APSA (Amer. Polit. Sci. Assoc.) meeting arguing that the Republican 1964 presidential nominee "should" have been William Scranton, who was preferred pairwise over the actual nominee Barry Goldwater by a massive margin. I was unable to track this work down, but Keech & Matthews discussed the matter in their later book

William R. Keech & Donald R. Matthews: The Party's Choice, Brookings Institution, Washington DC 1977 with an epilogue concerning the 1976 nominations. (Also available electronically for money through the Questia online library.)

This book is a study of 10 presidential nomination decisions since 1936 (20 in all, since 2 parties). It, needless to say, has a low opinion of the parties' nomination processes, noting on page 114:

The record of the presidential primary system as it has operated in the opposition party since 1936 can thus be summed up as follows: When the party has a single front-runner, the primaries rarely change the situation. When the competitive situation within the party is more confused (1940, 1948, 1952, 1964), the primary system does little to facilitate the emergence of a single leader.

Anyhow, let's return to our main topic, the Republicans' disastrous decision to nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964, leading to, as Wikipedia called it, "one of the most lopsided presidential elections in United States history... Johnson crushed Goldwater in the general election, winning 61.1 percent of the popular vote, the largest percentage since the popular vote first became widespread in 1824 (up to the time of writing, 2006)" or as the New York Times 4 Nov. 1964 banner headline read, "JOHNSON SWAMPS GOLDWATER."

When your party loses to the largest popular vote ever recorded, it behooves you to ask: why? Well, according to Keech & Matthews p143-144:

As the Pennsylvania Governor [Scranton] frantically barnstormed the country, the Gallup polls showed that President Johnson was ahead of Goldwater by a 78 percent to 14 percent margin. The first choice preferences of Republican voters for their party's nominee were a stand-off between Goldwater (22 percent), Nixon (22 percent), Scranton (20 percent), and Lodge (21 percent), though if the race were narrowed to a two-way choice between Goldwater and Scranton, the Pennsylvania Governor came out comfortably ahead, 55 percent to 34 percent.

[Independent fact check by me: Seven Goldwater-versus-Johnson "trial heat" Gallup polls held between 1 January and 2 November found Johnson's lead over Goldwater ranging between 77-to-18 and 64-to-29 percent with the rest undecided. Those are huge leads but not as large as 78-to-14 as claimed by Keech & Matthews. Another nationwide Gallup poll on 12 July forcing a Goldwater-v-Scranton choice (only Republicans polled) found they preferred Scranton 60-to-34 with the rest undecided.]

Keech and Matthews also noted on page 142, concerning the primary in the largest state (California):

The chances for a Rockefeller victory in California seemed good. Polls taken after the Oregon primary [15 May] showed the first-choice preferences of the state's Republicans were almost evenly split between Rockefeller (26%), Lodge (24%), Goldwater (21%), and Nixon (21%). But given a forced choice between Rockefeller and Goldwater, [Rockefeller] came out well ahead... on June 2... Barry Goldwater won with 51.2% of the vote.

[Independent fact check by me: Two nationwide Gallup polls on 19 Feb. and 20 March forcing a Rockefeller-v-Goldwater choice found they preferred Rockefeller by 49-to-36 percent on the earlier and by 45-to-44 on the later date (rest undecided); but if only Republicans were polled, they preferred Goldwater 44-to-41.]

Different contest; same theme: plurality-system distortions caused by vote-splitting or strategic focusing by the voters on perceived "front runners" (at the time, nationally speaking, Goldwater was perceived to be one of the front runners despite his initial lack of popularity in California) caused somebody to win whom it is known would have been beaten head-to-head by at least one opponent.

According to the second-hand report on Keech's 1972 presentation on page 531 of volume 9 issue 4 of Polity, year 1977 (unfortunately I never saw the primary source), Keech there went further, arguing that William Scranton was the Condorcet winner, and would have beat Goldwater pairwise by an even huger 60-to-34% margin.

Being the Condorcet winner is fine and dandy and means many a voting system would have nominated Scranton (e.g. see this for why range voting probably would have) – but not the system actually used, the plurality system, which nominated Goldwater to set the stage for the worst presidential defeat ever. The problem was that the anti-Goldwater Republicans split their vote between Lodge, Rockefeller, and Scranton.

Scranton would have done better than Goldwater versus Johnson (although Johnson would have defeated either). To support that, we offer (in addition to the seven Goldwater-vs-Johnson polls we cited before) these year-1964 Gallup polls. A nationwide Gallup poll on 1 July posed a forced choice between Scranton and Johnson; results were Johnson=69%, Scranton=26%, undecided=5%. On the same day, a simultaneous poll question forcing a Johnson-v-Goldwater choice went 77-18-5. In a 19 June poll, Gallup asked US Democrat-party county chairs which Republican they thought would have the best chance to beat Johnson. Scranton was the top choice with 303 votes (Goldwater got 297). Finally, Republicans only were asked on 22 January, if it were Johnson versus Goldwater, who would they elect? The results were Johnson=41%, Goldwater=47%, rest undecided. This shows how incredibly narrow Goldwater's support was; he likely could not have beaten Johnson even if democrats were not allowed to vote!! (Based on the fact that according to a 9 Feb. gallup poll, party affiliations were Dem=49%, Repub=27%, Independent=24%.)

So we ask the Republican Party this: Do you like getting killed? If not, we suggest learning from this mistake and adopting range voting for your next presidential primary. As Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

1964 Republican National Convention Nomination Vote:
    * Barry Goldwater - 883 (67.51%)
    * William Scranton - 214 (16.36%)
    * Nelson Rockefeller - 114 (8.72%)
    * George Romney - 41 (3.14%)
    * Margaret Chase Smith - 27 (2.06%)
    * Walter Judd - 22 (1.68%)
    * Hiram L. Fong - 5 (0.38%)
    * Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. - 2 (0.15%)

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