A Historic President, Historically Reelected

Barack and Michele Obama and Joe and Jill Biden on election night 2012

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

In the wake of Tuesday night’s results, Ed Kilgore at The Washington Monthly pointed out a statistic that a lot of people might otherwise miss:

Obama’s popular vote margin has grown to 2.7 million, and he’s right at the level where he may become the first Democratic presidential candidate since FDR to win a majority of the popular vote twice.

His margin continues to grow today as the remaining votes come in—specifically the outstanding 30% in California—and the President is certain now to win a slim, but definite majority of the popular vote.

Why does this matter? Don’t we choose presidents through the Electoral College? Of course, but in the ensuing argument of what constitutes a “mandate,” Obama’s crossing of the 50% threshold for a second time is a very big deal.

As Kilgore points out, Obama is the first Democratic presidential candidate to win a majority twice since FDR. He’s the first candidate of either party to accomplish this feat since Ronald Reagan, and one of only four total in the last one hundred years. Here are the numbers from Wikipedia:

  • 1932 FDR (D): 57.4%, Hoover (R): 39.7%
  • 1936 FDR (D): 60.8%, Landon (R): 36.5%
  • 1940 FDR (D): 54.7%, Wilkie (R): 44.8%
  • 1944 FDR (D): 53.4%, Dewey (R): 45.9%
  • 1952 Eisenhower (R): 55.2%  Stevenson (D): 44.3%
  • 1956 Eisenhower (R): 57.4%, Stevenson (D): 42%
  • 1980 Reagan (R): 50.7%, Carter (D): 41%, Anderson (I): 6.6%
  • 1984 Reagan (R): 58.8%, Mondale (D): 40.6%
  • 2008 Obama (D): 52.9%, McCain (R): 49.7%
  • 2012 Obama (D): 50.4%, Romney (R): 48.1% (count in progress)

FDR, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Obama. In the last 100 years, that’s it.

So what about the other two-termers? Let look at them next, beginning with the president-elect from 100 years ago today:

  • 1912 Wilson (D): 41.8%, TR (P): 27.4% Taft (R): 23.2%, Debs (S): 6%
  • 1916 Wilson (D): 49.2%, Hughes (R): 46.1%
  • 1968 Nixon (R): 43.4%, Humphrey (D): 42.7%, Wallace: (AI): 13.5%
  • 1972 Nixon (R): 60.7%, McGovern (D): 37.5%
  • 1992 Clinton (D): 43%, G.H.W. Bush (R): 37.5%, Perot (I): 18.9 %
  • 1996 Clinton (D): 49.2%, Dole (R): 40.7%, Perot (Ref.): 8.4%
  • 2000 G.W. Bush (R): 47.9%, Gore (D): 48.4%
  • 2004 G.W. Bush (R): 50.7%, Kerry (D): 48.3%

Of the remaining two-termers, Nixon and G.W. Bush managed one majority—both in their reelection— while Wilson and Clinton hold the distinction of being the only two-term Presidents never to win a majority of the popular vote, thanks at least in part to prominent third-party candidates.

And the other majorities since 1912? These were won by one-termers and vice-presidential successors:

  • 1920 Harding (R): 60.3%, Cox (D): 34.1%
  • 1924 Coolidge (R): 54%, Davis (D): 28.8% Follette (P): 16.6%
  • 1928 Hoover (R): 58.2%, Smith (D): 40.8%
  • 1964 LBJ (D): 61.1%, Goldwater (R): 38.5%
  • 1976 Carter (D): 50.1%, Ford (R): 48%
  • 1988 G.H.W. Bush (R): 53.4%, Dukakis (D): 45.7%

So we are looking at a historic reelection of an already historic president. He can now be mentioned in the same breath as FDR and Reagan, and is arguably as transformative a figure as each of them were.

We are witnesses to history—again—and if that’s not a mandate, I’m not sure what is.

5 thoughts on “A Historic President, Historically Reelected

  1. Perhaps it is a mandate, but I think Obama has to look at how slim the margin is. It is not necessarily a huge mandate which should indicate to anyone who’s watching that he needs to pay attention to the folks “across the aisle” a bit more, something that, by many reports, he has not done a good job of these past four years (due, in part, to refusal to co-operate from the other side as well).

    We’re a deeply divided nation and, if we’re going to fix our problems via the political machine, a little less “my way is the only way” and a little more humilty on ALL sides is the grease that we need…and, honestly, at least among our government folks, I’m seeing walls being strengthened and fortified and I’m not seeing much, on either side, of folks trying to find the middle ground…this is reflected and supported, as well, by Wall Street’s reaction yesterday…

    Meanwhile, those of us in the church need to take what we did with Election Day Communion and use that spirit of Unity in Christ and move out and forward in SPITE of the government grid lock…time for us to get off our butts and do what we were called to do…and if the govt wants to set aside their petty fights and join in, they are more than welcome…


    • I think it’s a mandate for the GOP to meet the President halfway. He’s there already waiting for someone to join him. The health care law? That was drawn up by the Heritage foundation and a version of it was signed into law in Massachusetts by the last Republican nominee. Deficit reduction? A bipartisan commission recommended a balanced approach, but the GOP congressional leadership, rank-and-file, and all the presidential primary candidates refused to discuss tax cuts. Climate change? Not a single Republican supported a previously Republican-backed cap-and-trade plan to control carbon emissions. Immigration reform? The GOP abandoned the principled and practical stands of both George W. Bush and John McCain and so demonized undocumented immigrants that Obama won 75% of the hispanic vote. Rhetoric? Compare “there are no blue states or red states” with “our goal is to make him a one term president,” not to mention the demonizing of Obama and all the racial dog whistles . . . I could go on. The point is this: we are a deeply divided nation because one political party has tried to take back power by any means necessary and the county be damned.

      Is that every Republican? Of course not. There are sane, pragmatic, and genuinely humble Republicans out there and they need to take control of their party again. We desperately need a strong conservative vision to balance our political discourse (and I say that as a mostly-liberal Democrat). The health of our democracy depends on it.

      Your last paragraph is dead on. The church needs to be one in Christ and to be a prophetic witness to all in power, no mater what party they belong to. Someone needs to speak for “the least among us.”


      • Excellent points on the extreme wing of the Republican party…something that I have been pretty ticked off at myself.

        That said, though, there has come out some reports and such of the WH administration and their inaction when it comes to reaching out to Repubs..as I said, Repubs are just as guilty, but it seems that entrenched Dems and entrenched Repubs are both more interesting in digging the trenches deeper than in finding the good in each other. Repubs want to reduce government involvment to a saner level. Dems want to make sure that folks are still taken care of in the process. Both sides have SERIOUS issues with military power and the use of violence and death to “protect our interests”. Repubs want to try and loosen restrictions on job creators but don’t seem to want to figure out how to increase revenue…but Dems want to increase tax rates but don’t seem to want to hear about reducing the spending levels.

        Both sides are just spreading further and further apart and folks like us, in the middle, are just gettng drowned out… Yeah, the GOP needs to wake up…they really messed up this time…but I think that the Dems need a similar wake up…it wasn’t quite a slam dunk… and that speaks in it’s own way that they have been given another 4 years…but like the GOP this year, Dems in 4 years will have to show some significant work at improving things or the next presidential election might see someone like Gary Johnson in office…


  2. Granted, there are extreme voices on both sides. The difference is that while the extreme Democrats are mostly found venting harmlessly on the comment boards of sites like Daily Kos, the extreme Republicans are steering their party so far to the right that they’ve long-since lost sight of the road. They’re caught in a Fox News/Talk Radio alternate reality where the President is a black-muslim-nazi-communist kenyan despot who wants to somehow simultaneously institute Sharia law and gay marriage. I know the people in charge don’t really believe this insane oxymoron, but they’ve deluded their base into believing not just three but three-hundred impossible—and mutually-contradictory—things before breakfast (to paraphrase Lewis Carroll).

    In different circumstances we could discuss all the topics you raise, with the best ideas from each side being heard by the other side. But until the one party that brought our national dialogue to an apocalyptic level finds a way to walk in all back that isn’t going to happen.

    I’m hoping this election is a wakeup call to the GOP—change now or lose BIG in four years—but I won’t believe it until I see it.


    • Minor comment: There are extremists on Fox news and Talk Radio (Hannity makes me want to scream, personally) but I wouldn’t call Fox News in general an alternate reality any more than Chris Matthews on MSNBC characterizes that whole network as being crazed, foaming at the mouth loons. 😉 Both networks have a perspective in opposition to each other… and that’s a good thing. But both networks have their nut-jobs and they shouldn’t necessarily be characterized by them. 🙂


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