Friday, November 30, 2012

Rice and Oppo

Many previous posts have discussed opposition research, which goes on outside elections, not just during campaigns. Politico reports:
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined to say if Ambassador Susan Rice's stock portfolio would present a conflict of interest if she took over the State Department, and he accused Republicans of feeding the story to the media in the first place.
POLITICO reported Wednesday that Rice owns as much as $600,000 worth of shares in TransCanada, whose proposed Keystone pipeline is under review by the State Department.
"I would commend Republican opposition researchers for the intellectual bandwidth that is required to read a financial disclosure form, because this was all documented in a financial disclosure form, entirely appropriately, legally, and by the book," Carney said.
...
An RNC spokeswoman did not respond to messages seeking comment. As POLITICO reported, the information first appeared on the web site of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

Current Members Get Interest Group Jobs

Politico reports:
Retiring Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) will join Duke Energy early next year as senior vice president of federal affairs. Rep. Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat who lost his primary, is joining insurer Florida Blue as a government affairs executive. Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.), who resigned July 31, will form a public affairs firm, Republic Consulting, with lobbyist Hunter Bates.
So much for closing the revolving door.
Not much is stopping lawmakers and staffers from going straight into Washington’s most powerful lobbying shops, collecting handsome salaries for their high profiles, skills and contacts.

Why?  Bans on direct lobbying do not preclude former lawmakers or executive branch officials from going to work for special interests.
This sort of revolving door was supposed to stop after a series of highly touted lobbying reforms in 2007, but while everyone is sure to follow the letter of the law, the path to K Street remains open.
Sure, there are some rules: Outgoing House members must wait one year until they may lobby their former colleagues. For departing senators, it’s two years, and violating the ban could lead to legal trouble. Former congressmen also don’t have House gym privileges.
But former members can still visit their ex-colleagues on the House floor, although they aren’t supposed to lobby while on the floor or carry on if they have a financial stake in a bill being considered.
And even after any waiting period is up, high-profile hires simply aren’t bothering to declare themselves as lobbyists anymore, using opaque titles such as “adviser” that could mean anything.
But still...signing up for an interest-group job while you're still casting votes in Congress is pretty tacky.

“Members of Congress should refrain from accepting employment at a firm until they have officially separated from Congress,” said Monte Ward, the newly elected president of the American League of Lobbyists. “Once they have completed the mandatory ‘cooling off’ period, we will welcome them to the profession.”


Social Media Infographic

The second edition of our book (see image to the right) has a boxed feature on the political impact of social media and communication technology. The Pew Internet and American Life Project has an infographic on the topic:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Democrats and Republicans Diverge on Key Terms

Previous posts have looked at the way Americans react to various terms in economics and politics. Gallup reports:
Exemplifying a major partisan divide in modern politics, Democrats react significantly more positively to the term "federal government" than they do to the term "capitalism," while the opposite is true for Republicans. But both Democrats and Republicans are highly positive about the terms "small business," "free enterprise," and "entrepreneurs."
These findings are based on a Nov. 18-19 update of a January 2010 Gallup poll question asking respondents if they had a positive or negative image of each of seven economically related terms.

 Rated terms by party ID.gif

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Views of Health Care

Americans are less likely than people in other countries to support an extensive welfare state.  For instance, President Obama faced a good deal of public skepticism about his health care plan.  Now, Gallup reports:
For the first time in Gallup trends since 2000, a majority of Americans say it is not the federal government's responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage. Prior to 2009, a majority always felt the government should ensure healthcare coverage for all, though Americans' views have become more divided in recent years.

The current results are based on Gallup's annual Health and Healthcare poll, conducted Nov. 15-18 this year.
The shift away from the view that the government should ensure healthcare coverage for all began shortly after President Barack Obama's election and has continued the past several years during the discussions and ultimate passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010. Americans are divided on that legislation today -- 48% approve and 45% disapprove -- as they have been over the last several years.
Government responsible for healthcare of all Americans?.gif

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Laws Against Blasphemy, Apostasy, and Religious Defamation

Previous posts have noted that the United States is unusual in the extent to which it protects all kinds of expression, including deeply offensive statements about race, religion and politics.  The Pew Forum reports:
A new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that as of 2011 nearly half of the countries and territories in the world (47%) have laws or policies that penalize blasphemy, apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) or defamation (disparagement or criticism of particular religions or religion in general). Of the 198 countries studied, 32 (16%) have anti-blasphemy laws, 20 (10%) have laws penalizing apostasy and 87 (44%) have laws against the defamation of religion, including hate speech against members of religious groups.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lobbying Goes On, As Before

Previous posts have explained that there are pretty big loopholes in laws and rules banning lobbying by recent government employeesThe Hill reports:
With President Obama's reelection a done deal, headhunters are expecting worn-out administration aides to look for new jobs in the influence industry.

Several Obama aides started making post-election plans well before November, holding discussions with executive search firms in Washington as early as this past spring. Their stock has risen since Obama’s victory, but they face a tough job market on K Street, where belt-tightening has become the norm.
Several headhunters for law and lobby firms said one thing that won’t work against the job seekers is Obama’s executive order on ethics, which bans former officials from lobbying the administration while he is in office.
“That hasn't come up once,” Eric Vautour of Russell Reynolds Associates said of the ethics order. “They can still direct those activities. If you're asking someone to go run a whole department, they can go ask someone to make a call. It's not that big a deal. Clients recognize that as well.”
Around this time last year, a post described a special interest Hawaii junket for California lawmakers.  They're at it again. The Los Angeles Times reports:
 The day after being elected to the state Assembly, several incoming lawmakers were in AT&T's luxury suite at the Sacramento sports arena, watching the Kings with the company's top Capitol executive.
The next day, the California Dental Assn. feted the state's freshman legislators. That was before more than 20 legislators jetted off to Hawaii, China, Brazil, New Zealand and other locales — with some trips paid for in large part by healthcare, energy and communications companies.
...Following the example of veteran legislative leaders, including Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles), more than a dozen Democratic freshmen headed off to AT&T's suite at the Sleep Train Arena.
Lawmakers are not allowed to take more than $420 in gifts per year, and they are supposed to report what they receive. But sidestepping the rules is hardly a challenge.The freshmen who joined Pérez didn't have to report the value of their tickets because the gathering was hosted by the state Democratic Party....Other freshman Democrats in the suite included Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova, Marc Levine of San Rafael, Phil Ting of San Francisco, Kevin Mullin of South San Francisco, Rudy Salas of Bakersfield, Bill Quirk of Hayward and Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles.
Jones-Sawyer was one of 15 legislators who flew a few days later to Maui for a five-day conference at the Fairmont Kea Lani organized by the California Independent Voter Project.The group, which paid some of the legislators' travel expenses, has been funded over the years by tobacco giant Altria Group Inc., Southern California Edison, Eli Lilly & Co., Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the California Beer & Beverage Distributors, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Assn., Chevron Corp. and the state prison guards union. 
In between rounds of golf and poolside lounging, the sponsors talked with lawmakers.
"I was learning about the issues," said Jones-Sawyer, the only freshman on the trip. "There were some things I didn't know — such as how businesses really need help to flourish here in California."

Youth Vote 2012

In winning reelection, Barack Obama won 60% of the vote among those younger than 30. That was down somewhat from 2008, when Obama won nearly two-thirds (66%) of the votes of young people. However, Obama’s youth support may have been an even more important factor in his victory this year than it was in 2008.
The divide between young voters and older voters was as stark this year as it was in 2008. While Obama lost ground among voters younger than 30, he still won this age group by 24 points over Mitt Romney (60% to 36%). He also maintained a slimmer advantage among voters 30 to 44 (52% Obama, 45% Romney), while losing ground among those 45 to 64 and those 65 and older.
Among all voters 30 and older, Obama ran behind Mitt Romney (48% for Obama, 50% for Romney). Four years ago, Obama edged John McCain, 50% to 49%, among all 30+ voters.
In Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania, Obama also failed to win a majority of voters 30 and older. Yet he swept all four battleground states, in part because he won majorities of 60% or more among young voters.
Just as critically, young people made up as large a share of the overall electorate as they did in 2008, according to the national exit poll (19% in 2012, 18% in 2008). As recently as September, young voters were significantly less engaged in the campaign than they had been four years earlier. But their interest and engagement levels increased in the campaign’s final weeks. In the Pew Research Center’s final pre-election survey, as many registered voters under 30 said they were giving a lot of thought to the election as did so in the last weekend of the 2008 race.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Switching Sides on the Filibuster

Attitudes toward procedure have a way of shifting with the balance of power.  When one side is in the majority, it wants to sweep away impediments to swift action.  When it is in the minority, it sees those same impediments as necessary safeguards of deliberative democracy.

A previous post described the conflict between Senate Republicans, who want to use the filibuster, and the majority Senate Democrats, who want to curb it.

Things were different a few years ago.

In 2005, Republicans controlled the Senate and considered a maneuver to end filibusters of judicial nominations.  Critics of the move defended the filibuster.  The Center for American Progress wrote:
As early as this week, a “nuclear option” could be invoked to remove the 200-year-old tradition of the Senate filibuster, the tool that empowers 41 or more senators to prevent a narrow majority from abusing its power. The filibuster is one of the only ways to encourage genuine bipartisan cooperation and compromise on important issues that come before the Senate. The nuclear option is currently being considered by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and being pushed by the Religious Right, who would like to confirm President Bush’s judicial nominees.
People for the American Way set up a website www.savethefilibuster.org and produced a television ad defending the filibuster:

 
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Filibusters and Trees

The New York Times reports on procedural warfare in the Senate:
Senator Bob Dole had just assumed the mantle of Senate majority leader, after the Republican landslide of 1994, when he confronted a problem.
Piles of Republican legislation from Newt Gingrich’s self-styled “revolutionary” House were stacking up in a narrowly divided, more deliberate Senate, and Democrats were threatening to gum up the works with amendments that would stall the bills.
Mr. Dole turned to the Senate’s Democratic master of floor procedure, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, who taught him a parliamentary trick known to Senate insiders as “filling the tree,” Mr. Dole recalled.
The convoluted procedure allows the majority leader to claim all opportunity for offering changes to a bill, effectively preventing any other senator from proposing an amendment intended to slow down legislation or force a politically embarrassing vote.
“I never knew what ‘filling the tree’ was until I tried it, but it turned out to be pretty good,” Mr. Dole said, ruefully accepting a share of the blame for the parliamentary arms race that has consumed the Senate in recent years. “I don’t think there’s any credit.”
The increased use of the tactic, which had previously been rare, is part of the procedural warfare that has reached a zenith over the past two years in the Senate. Republicans threaten to filibuster and propose politically charged amendments, Democrats fill the amendment tree, and Republicans filibuster in retaliation.
The tactic initially meant to speed bills has instead helped slow them down. The Senate — the legislative body that was designed as the saucer to cool the House’s tempestuous teacup — has become a deep freeze, where even once-routine matters have become hopelessly stuck and a supermajority is needed to pass almost anything.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (R-Nevada) has spoken about changing filibuster rules:



Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has recently spoken on the floor about "filling the tree."

Secession?

Secession? In 2004, after President Bush won 51% of the vote, a small number of disgruntled progressives gave some fleeting thought to seceding from the Union, perhaps to join Canada.



In 2012, after President Obama won 51% of the vote, a few on the right are thinking the same thing. Voice of America reports:



At the time of liberal secession rumbles, Michael C. Dorf wrote that "it is settled law that the Constitution does not permit unilateral secession: A state or group of states cannot simply leave the Union over the objections of the national government. However, the arguments that led to this settled understanding are hardly unassailable, and the Constitution is probably best read as permitting the mutually agreed upon departure of one or more states."

Polls show that most oppose the secession of their own states, and those who say that support it are probably just venting their unhappiness with the central government. At USA Today, law professor Glenn Reynolds writes:
So what's a solution? Let the central government do the things that only central governments can do -- national defense, regulation of trade to keep the provinces from engaging in economic warfare with one another, protection of basic civil rights -- and then let the provinces go their own way in most other issues. Don't like the way things are run where you are? Move to a province that's more to your taste. Meanwhile, approaches that work in individual provinces can, after some experimentation, be adopted by the central government, thus lowering the risk of adopting untested policies at the national level. You get the benefits of secession without seceding.
Sound good? It should. It's called federalism, and it's the approach chosen by the United States when it adopted the Constitution in 1789. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 45, "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State."
It's a nice plan. Beats secession. Maybe we should give it another try

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Direct Democracy and Deliberative Democracy

Previous posts have discussed the tension between direct democracy and deliberative democracy. Shortly after the recent election, John Gastil wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer about an effort to reduce this tension:
One of the most promising contemporary institutions is the Oregon Citizens' Initiative Review, which became a permanent part of the state's electoral process under bipartisan legislation passed last year. The review convenes a demographically balanced, random sample of 24 citizens for weeklong deliberations on every state ballot measure.
The citizen panelists interrogate advocates, opponents, and experts on each initiative. They then examine the evidence and arguments to produce a one-page analysis, which appears in the official pamphlet the secretary of state mails to all registered Oregon voters.
Research my colleagues and I conducted in 2010 showed that the reviews had a significant impact on the wider electorate, helping voters sort through complex ballot questions. Consider, for example, two reviews held this year.
Panelists studying a proposed change in the state's tax laws discovered that it could not guarantee the increased education funding it promised. In a less reflective process, such a "gotcha" finding might have led the measure to be rejected. But a majority of this sober citizen panel endorsed the measure anyway, on the grounds that it appeared superior to the status quo.
The measure passed on Tuesday.'
Another panel tackled a controversial proposal to allow non-tribal casinos in the state. The polished arguments of the initiative's proponents collapsed under the panel's weeklong scrutiny, and the panelists ended up with doubts about its benefits and concerns about adverse effects on tribal revenues. This is likely why casino proponents suspended their campaign before Election Day, when the initiative was rejected.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and State Law

In Springfield, Massachusetts, WGGB reports:
You’ve probably seen the national commercials saying that you can start your Black Friday shopping at 8 P.M. on Thanksgiving. You’ve also probably also seen signs saying that in Massachusetts, that won’t be the case.
Bay state Blue Laws keep that from happening. They were drafted in the Colonial era by Puritan church members to regulate public activities on Sundays.
Due to the Blue Laws, prior to 1994, retail stores couldn’t open before noon.
Now the legislation is enforced by the Attorney General’s Fair Labor Division prohibiting businesses from opening on certain holidays.
...
Rhode Island is the only other state in the nation to enforce Blue Laws on Thanksgiving.


In Oklahoma City, News9 reports: 
 Retailers may be offering better Black Friday deals to shoppers in other states. It's all because of an old law still on the state books. Those national advertisements for places like Wal-Mart show some huge discounts. But that "Bargain Busting Law" in Oklahoma could mean less savings and disappointed bargain hunters. It's an old law called the Unfair Sales Act, banning retailers from selling products below cost and protecting small businesses from big box stores.

News9.com - Oklahoma City, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports |

Unified Party Control of State Governments




In the 2012 state elections, some blue states got bluer and some red states got redder. The result is unified control, as The New York Times reports:
Though the Nov. 6 election maintained divided government in Washington, the picture is starkly different in capitals from California to Florida: one party will hold the governor’s office and majorities in both legislative chambers in at least 37 states, the largest number in 60 years and a significant jump from even two years ago.
...
Twenty-four states will be controlled by Republicans, including Alaska and Wisconsin, where the party took the State Senate, and North Carolina, where the governorship changed hands. At least 13 states will be Democratic, including Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon, where control of the legislatures shifted, and California, where the already dominant Democrats gained a supermajority in both chambers. (The situation in New York, where the potential for single-party control by the Democrats rests on the makeup of the Senate, is still uncertain.)
Power will be split in, at most, 12 capitals — the fewest, said Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures, since 1952.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

The Continental Congress issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in 1777, to celebrate the patriots' victory in Saratoga. It is notable for its explicitly Christian language. In 1864, Abraham Lincoln started the national practice of observing Thanksgiving in November. From Proclamation 118:
It has pleased Almighty God to prolong our national life another year, defending us with His guardian care against unfriendly designs from abroad and vouchsafing to us in His mercy many and signal victories over the enemy, who is of our own household. It has also pleased our Heavenly Father to favor as well our citizens in their homes as our soldiers in their camps and our sailors on the rivers and seas with unusual health. He has largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while He has opened to us new sources of wealth and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards. Moreover, He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions:
Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe. And I do further recommend to my fellow-citizens aforesaid that on that occasion they do reverently humble themselves in the dust and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers and supplications to the Great Disposer of Events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land which it has pleased Him to assign as a dwelling place for ourselves and for our posterity throughout all generations.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this 20th day of October, A.D. 1864, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-ninth.
Lincoln's successors  followed the practice of proclaiming the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day.  In 1939 (as in 2012), however, November had five Thursdays.  To lengthen the Christmas shopping season and boost the still-struggling economy, FDR proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the second-to-last Thursday, November 23 instead of November 30.  The move was controversial as many organizations (including calendar manufacturers) had already planned on the later date. The FDR Library picks up the story:
As opposition grew, some states took matters into their own hands and defied the Presidential Proclamation. Some governors declared November 30th as Thanksgiving. And so, depending upon where one lived, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the 23rd and the 30th. This was worse than changing the date in the first place because families that lived in states such as New York did not have the same day off as family members in states such as Connecticut! Family and friends were unable to celebrate the holiday together. 
Franklin Roosevelt observed Thanksgiving on the second to last Thursday of November for two more years, but the amount of public outrage prompted Congress to pass a law on December 26, 1941, ensuring that all Americans would celebrate a unified Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November every year.
Here is President Obama's 2012 Thanksgiving message:

 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

California: Purple to Blue

Time makes some claims about California politics:

There was a time when California was Republican. The state voted red in six straight presidential elections until Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992. Since then, it has voted solidly Democrat for President. Experts say this decline can be partly traced back to former Republican governor Pete Wilson’s endorsement of Proposition 187, a 1994 ballot initiative that aimed to deny undocumented immigrants access to public services.
These claims do not tell the whole story. In four of the six elections that it mentions, the Republican nominee was Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, both of whom had California roots.  (And in 1972 and 1984, 48 other states went Republican, too.)

California has not been a solidly Republican state for a very long time. In his 1949 book, California: The Great Exception, Carey McWilliams wrote: "California is a state that lacks a political gyroscope, a state that swings and sways, spins and turns in accordance with its own peculiar dynamics."  When he wrote the book, Harry Truman had just carried the state in the 1948 presidential election even though the GOP vice presidential nominee was Governor Earl Warren.

Some additional data:

  • The last time there were more registered Republicans than Democrats in California was 1932. 
  • Democrats have controlled the State Assembly for 48 of the past 52 years.  They have controlled the State Senate for 50 of the past 52.
  • In those 52 years, there have been 14 gubernatorial elections (including the 2003 recall).  Democrats won six, Republicans eight.
What is true is that Republicans have been doing worse in California over the past 20 years.  Democrats control all statewide offices and 2/3 majorities in the Legislature. Is the Hispanic vote the reason? The key word in the Time passage is "partly." The Hispanic vote has contributed to the GOP's decline but has not been the sole cause of it.  In the 1998 gubernatorial race, for instance, Democrat Gray Davis would have defeated Dan Lungren without any Hispanic votes at all.

Ever since the 2000 election and its TV maps, we've associated red with the GOP, blue with the Democrats.  California has not been a red state in living memory It is more accurate to say that California has gone from being a purple state (mixed red and blue) to a blue state. The Hispanic vote is one important reason for this shift, but there are others, such as economic changes stemming from the end of the Cold War.

For more detail, see Sean Trende's excellent 2010 article.


Military Veterans in Congress

Previous posts have discussed the role of military veterans in American public life. USA Today reports:
A decade of wars abroad has not reversed the decline in military veterans serving in the U.S. Congress. When the next session convenes in January, the two chambers will have the fewest number of veterans serving since World War II. It's a continuation of a nearly four-decade-long decline of veterans in office since the peak of their service in the years after the Vietnam War.

In 2013, just 19% of the 535 combined members in the U.S. House and Senate will have active-duty military service on their resume, down from a peak in 1977 when 80% of lawmakers boasted military service. In the current Congress, 22% are military veterans.
The transition from the draft to an all-volunteer military in 1973 is a driving force of the decline, but veterans and their advocates say they face more challenges running for office in the modern era of political campaigns.

"There's so few opportunities that we have where veterans can run a federal campaign," said Jon Soltz of VoteVets.org, a liberal veterans' advocacy group that supports candidates for office. "They are credible messengers to the public, but only if they're financed. A veteran with a great narrative that doesn't have the infrastructure to sell themselves is a tree falling alone in the woods."
One of the incoming veterans is Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), who lost her legs as a helicopter pilot in Iraq:

 Photo

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%