Hey, is that an elephant in the room?

With all the fuss about William Barr’s 4-page summary of the Mueller report, I decided it might be worthwhile to read it.

The line that caught my attention and the line that no one seems to be talking about is:

The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts.


Russian meddling is not alleged or suspected. It is a verifiable fact.

Since I didn’t see it mentioned anywhere, I thought, “How often does a foreign power interfere with elections?” There’s a Wikipedia page about it.

There we find that in the 2016 US election, Russia intervened, Ukraine tried, and there’s some suspicion about Saudi Arabia.

Guess who interferes in elections more than any other government in the world, and by a large margin too?

The. United. States.

One study indicated that the country intervening in most foreign elections is the United States with 81 interventions, followed by Russia (including the former Soviet Union) with 36 interventions from 1946 to 2000 – an average of once in every nine competitive elections.

This study was done by Dov Levin, an Israeli scholar who started his academic career at Haifa University.

His research shows that the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia use covert or overt “partisan election interventions.” Influence tends to swing the vote by 2 to 3 percent. Sometimes that’s enough, sometimes not. (He published his academic article in February 2016.)

He notes that two things need to happen in order for intervention to take place – he calls them motive and opportunity – “a great power must perceive its interests as being endangered by a certain candidate or party within a democratic target … a significant domestic actor must consent to, and willingly cooperate with, a proposed electoral intervention by the great power.” The willing actor need not be the candidate.

In September 2016, Levin published an article in the Washington Post giving a synopsis of his research and said that the Soviet Union/Russia had meddled unsuccessfully in US elections two times previously (1948 and 1984). At the time, he said that Russian interference would likely be ineffective as the United States is a “hard target,” but Putin’s end goal would be “anyone but Hillary.”

In December 2018, Levin published an article stating that it would be unlikely for Mueller to prove that Trump colluded with Russia.

if possible collusion between the Trump camp and Russia occurred along the lines of past cases, the number of people who would know or who were involved in the collusion in the Trump campaign is probably quite small. Many senior members of the Trump campaign, including some of those personnel with ties to Russia, would likely have had no clue of such collusion going on. It may well be possible that even Trump was kept in the dark by those in his campaign who might have conspired with Russia.

Another obvious difficulty is that colluders are not taking notes and keeping records of their activities. Anyone who has seen even one episode of Law & Order knows that you can’t prosecute without hard evidence.

And then I started wondering about the numbers in the 2016 election. Did Russian meddling have an effect?

I’m not a statistician, but here are a few things I found interesting.

  • The trend in the 2016 election was for most states to shift toward the Republican side.
  • In many cases, the shift was not enough to swing a blue state to a red state.
  • In 4 states, the margin of victory was less than 1 percent. Together they equal 50 Electoral College votes (or enough to change the election result).
    • Michigan
    • New Hampshire
    • Pennsylvania
    • Wisconsin
  • Compared with the 2012 election, only 1 state (29 EC votes) had a margin of victory of less than 1 percent, and in the 2008 election, it was 2 states (26 EC votes). In neither case was it enough to change the outcome of the election.
  • Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were blue states in the 2012 election, all shifted toward red, but only New Hampshire (4 EC votes) stayed blue.

Then I took an even closer look.

State Clinton Trump Other parties
Michigan 47.27% 47.5% 5.46%
Pennsylvania 47.46% 48.18% 5.08%
Wisconsin 46.45% 47.22% 7.09%

Neither major party got 50 percent of the vote, and the non-major parties got more than 3 percent of the vote (the number of votes Levin says a foreign power can influence). If Levin is correct and Putin wanted “anyone but Hillary” in office, these numbers seem to suggest that.

Let me add a few more statistics for comparison. These are popular vote percentages (due to rounding, they don’t always add up to exactly 100 percent).

Election Year Democrat Republican Other
2016 48.18% 46.09% 5.73%
2012 51.06% 47.2% 1.73%
2008 52.93% 45.65% 1.45%
2000 (Gore v. G.W. Bush) 47.87% 48.38% 3.75%
1992 (Clinton v. G.H.W. Bush v. Perot) 43.01% 37.45% 19.54%

I added the 2000 and 1992 elections to show that 3rd party candidates can have an influence on the elections – in 2000 in favor of the Republicans and in 1992 in favor of the Democrats, when a viable 3rd party candidate broke the Republican party.

What does all this mean?

  • I’m bothered that foreign interference in a sovereign country’s elections is treated as “business as usual.”
  • I wonder if the interference caused enough Americans to reject both parties, and it was a tossup whether it would favor the Democrats or the Republicans. In any case, the voting statistics show a divided nation with more people considering 3rd party candidates.
  • Maybe the strategy to determine how to tip the Electoral College was suggested by an entity that had a preferred outcome.
  • Did the United States get a taste of its own medicine in 2016? Is this a harbinger of a new world order?
  • We may never know everyone who colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, or at least we may not have enough solid evidence, but we do know Russia interfered and Putin got the result he wanted.
  • Israel’s election is coming up on April 9 and I’m feeling more cynical than ever.