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.