Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Crunching more re-election numbers

Now it is the day after and we know that President Obama secured re-election by at least 303 electors (Florida still has yet to be called--maybe they should have to sit the next one out until they get their act together). Although national polls had a dead heat and swing state polls had him only slightly ahead, it was enough for Obama to pull it off against all odds, historically speaking.

The statistics are not just unusual, they are downright mystifying. Much of the focus on the history of presidential elections is that no president since FDR as been re-elected with employment so high (until now). But the really striking thing is that no president has EVER been elected to a second term by receiving fewer total votes. FDR did get slightly fewer votes in his third and fourth terms compared with the previous cycles, but he was still up 4.5 million and 2.8 million compared with his first election.

Some presidents have gotten more votes and lost, but none had gotten fewer votes and won. Presidents have been re-elected by growing their vote count, usually by the millions in the past century. Eisenhower expanded his total by 1.5 million, Nixon by a whopping 15.4 million, Reagan by 10.6 million, Clinton by 2.6 million, and G. W. Bush by 11.6 million.

I think some votes are still coming in, so the final tally might change, but not by much. And it remains to be seen how the fallout from Hurricane Sandy affected turnout. At this point, Obama received 9.4 million FEWER votes than in 2008 (and only 138,119 more votes than John McCain). And yet the population of the country increased by about 10.4 million in the past four years. That means a whopping 19% of Americans cast a ballot for our next president--a big drop from his previous percentage of 23.5% in 2008, but not nearly as low as Clinton's 17.5% in 1996.

It is historical. It is remarkable. It is, to coin a phrase, unpresidented.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

We often have similar issues that can boil down to voter turnout in Canada. To my mind, a candidate that gets significantly fewer votes and still squeaks a win doesn't have as strong a mandate to lead. But he still has one. As we used to say, 'What do you call a seminary graduate with a C average? "Father".'

The question might just as easily be raised about his competition: If the challenger *still* couldn't get elected, despite the poor support for the incumbent, what does *that* say?