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# Electoral-College Math

EVERY election year at about this time, the television networks and others start trotting out their national polls showing that Candidate A is ahead of Candidate B.

The conventional wisdom, based on these polls, is that President Clinton is currently ahead of Senator Dole in the presidential race - although Dole's possible choice of a running mate greatly affects the choice of those surveyed.

This is reflected in a recent survey of newspaper editors by the Technometric Institute of Policy and Politics. Of 121 editors queried, 78 percent said if the election were held today, Mr. Clinton would win.

The flaws in polls at this stage of the game? It's too early to predict the outcome because the public (1) hasn't made up its mind, and (2) mostly isn't paying attention yet. For example, in January and February of 1980, polls showed Democrat Jimmy Carter leading Republican Ronald Reagan by margins of about 2 to 1 - hardly a guide to that November's decisive outcome in the opposite direction. More recently, in the summer of 1988, polls gave Democrat Michael Dukakis as much as a 20 percent lead over eventual winner George Bush.

An even bigger flaw is that when it comes to US presidential elections, national popularity figures are misleading at best, and meaningless at worst. The president is elected by the electoral college, the result of 51 (state and District of Columbia) elections all on the same day in November. It's technically possible to win the popular vote and still lose the election. It's happened three times in our history (1824, 1876, and 1888), although never in this century.

(Q: What happens if no one wins a majority of electoral votes? Answer below.)

When you punch the presidential part of your ballot on election day, you are actually voting for a slate of electors pledged to vote for your candidate. Each state gets one electoral vote for each seat in the House of Representatives and the Senate. It takes 270 votes to win. Despite the current polls, the electoral-college math doesn't favor Democrats, and the White House knows it.

Consider the following: In the last five elections, the two Democrat winners - Clinton and Carter - had the weakest showings among the five in the electoral vote. Twelve states with 73 electoral votes have voted Republican in all seven of the last elections. Add the 12 states that voted Republican in six of the last seven elections, and you have 165 more votes for a total of 238. Thirteen additional states with 146 votes went to the GOP in five of the last seven elections, bringing us to 384 electoral votes, well beyond the number Dole needs to win.

Meanwhile, the president currently can count on only 11 states with 109 votes.