Tuesday, November 20, 2012

President Obama's Popular Vote in Historical Perspective: A Preliminary Look

Two weeks after the election, the vote count is not yet complete.  As of yesterday, there were still 1.5 million unprocessed ballots in California alone.  Nevertheless, we have a reasonably good idea of popular vote percentages in the presidential race.  We have already put the electoral vote in historical perspective, so how does President Obama's share of the 2012 vote look?

The table below ranks winners since 1896 by share of popular vote.  President Obama is currently in a tie with George W. Bush in 2004. His percentage will probably tick up as the final votes come in, however, so we can make a preliminary estimate that his 2012 showing ranks 20th out of 30.

1
1964
Lyndon B. Johnson
61.05%
2
1936
Franklin D. Roosevelt
60.80%
3
1972
Richard Nixon
60.67%
4
1920
Warren G. Harding
60.32%
5
1984
Ronald Reagan
58.77%
6
1928
Herbert Hoover
58.21%
7
1932
Franklin D. Roosevelt
57.41%
8
1956
Dwight D. Eisenhower
57.37%
9
1904
Theodore Roosevelt
56.42%
10
1952
Dwight D. Eisenhower
55.18%
11
1940
Franklin D. Roosevelt
54.74%
12
1924
Calvin Coolidge
54.04%
13
1944
Franklin D. Roosevelt
53.39%
14
1988
George H.W. Bush
53.37%
15
2008
Barack Obama
52.87%
16
1900
William McKinley
51.64%
17
1908
William H. Taft
51.57%
18
1896
William McKinley
51.02%
19
1980
Ronald Reagan
50.75%
20
2004
George W. Bush
50.73%
21
2012
Barack Obama
50.73%
22
1976
Jimmy Carter
50.08%
23
1960
John F. Kennedy
49.72%
24
1948
Harry S. Truman
49.55%
25
1916
Woodrow Wilson
49.24%
26
1996
Bill Clinton
49.23%
27
2000
George W. Bush
47.87%
28
1968
Richard Nixon
43.42%
29
1992
Bill Clinton
43.01%
30
1912
Woodrow Wilson
41.84%

There is a problem with this method of ranking, however.  In some elections, a third-party candidate took a large share of the vote, so the winner's percentage may look artificially small.  In 1992 and 1996, for instance, Bill Clinton won handily even though H. Ross Perot kept his share below 50 percent.  So perhaps a better way of ranking is to look at the winning candidate's popular vote margin.  President Obama ties with Woodrow Wilson in 1916, but again we assume that his vote will increase slightly, so we can rank him 24th of 30.

1
1920
Warren G. Harding
26.17%
2
1924
Calvin Coolidge
25.22%
3
1936
Franklin D. Roosevelt
24.26%
4
1972
Richard Nixon
23.15%
5
1964
Lyndon B. Johnson
22.58%
6
1904
Theodore Roosevelt
18.83%
7
1984
Ronald Reagan
18.21%
8
1932
Franklin D. Roosevelt
17.76%
9
1928
Herbert Hoover
17.41%
10
1956
Dwight D. Eisenhower
15.40%
11
1912
Woodrow Wilson
14.44%
12
1952
Dwight D. Eisenhower
10.85%
13
1940
Franklin D. Roosevelt
9.96%
14
1980
Ronald Reagan
9.74%
15
1908
William H. Taft
8.53%
16
1996
Bill Clinton
8.51%
17
1988
George H.W. Bush
7.72%
18
1944
Franklin D. Roosevelt
7.50%
19
2008
Barack Obama
7.27%
20
1900
William McKinley
6.12%
21
1992
Bill Clinton
5.56%
22
1948
Harry S. Truman
4.48%
23
1896
William McKinley
4.31%
24
2012
Barack Obama
3.12%
25
1916
Woodrow Wilson
3.12%
26
2004
George W. Bush
2.46%
27
1976
Jimmy Carter
2.06%
28
1968
Richard Nixon
0.70%
29
1960
John F. Kennedy
0.17%
30
2000
George W. Bush
-0.51%