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The Election Wasn’t As Close As We First Thought

With the votes now finally nearly completely counted, it turns out that President Obama’s victory wasn’t as close as it seemed on Election Night:

On election night, President Obama’s victory margin seemed fairly narrow – just slightly more than 2 percentage points. White House aides anxiously waited to see if Obama would surpass the 2.46-percentage-point margin by which President George W. Bush defeated Sen. John F. Kerry in 2004.

They needn’t have worried. In the weeks since the election, as states have completed their counts, Obama’s margin has grown steadily. From just over 2 percentage points, it now stands at nearly 4. Rather than worry about the Bush-Kerry precedent, White House aides now brag that Obama seems all but certain to achieve a mark hit by only five others in U.S. history – winning the presidency twice with 51% or more of the popular vote.

As of Friday, Obama had 50.97% of the vote to Mitt Romney’s 47.3% with 47 states having certified  their final count, according to the statistics compiled assiduously by David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Most of the nation’s remaining uncounted ballots, perhaps as many as 413,000, Wasserman estimated, are in heavily Democratic New York, where officials have until next week to finish their tabulations. The other two states yet to certify a final count are West Virginia, which Romney carried, and Hawaii, which went heavily for its native son, the president. Once all those get tossed into the mix, Obama’s margin almost surely will rise slightly, allowing him to claim the 51% mark without rounding up.

Here’ are the (not yet final) numbers:

  • Obama/Biden — 65,594,456 (50.97%)
  • Romney/Ryan —  60,859,486 (47.29%)
  • Other — 2,229,938 (1.73%)
  • Total votes — 128,683,880

As of now, Obama stands to end up with about 4 million fewer voters than he received in 2008, while Romney is already past the total received by John McCain in both the total raw votes and the percentage of the vote. Overall, turnout based on these figures was down a little less than 3,000,000 votes from the total cast in the 2008 election.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. PJ says:

    I’m happy as long as Romney stays at 47%, but 51% for Obama would be a bonus.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 2

  2. Brummagem Joe says:

    It didn’t seem close to anyone who is reasonably numerate and knew they’d be counting votes into the middle of December. It was obvious a) turnout was going to be around 126 million
    b) Romney’s vote was going to be around the Republican ceiling of 60 million c)Obama would get 4-5 million more votes than Romney d) the final percentages were likely to 51/47. I’m certainly not Nate Silver but even I could figure this out.

    but 51% for Obama would be a bonus.

    He’s at 51 if you use the rounding convention you’re applying to Romney…..and I’m betting Obama will end up a bip or two above 51.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  3. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Oops

    a) turnout was going to be at least around 126 million

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Barfour says:

    Three states haven’t certified a final count, the electoral college is going to meet and vote tomorrow, right? Aren’t all states supposed to certify their results before the electoral college meet to vote?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Liberal Capitalist says:

    To all those bloviating conservatives, so self-assured of Mr. Romney’s victory:

    Revenge is a dish best served cold.

    Sincerely,

    The other 47%

    (Bite my shiny liberal progressive a$$)

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 9

  6. Ernieyeball says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: To the victor goes the spoils snark.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  7. FSM_47 says:

    and Liberal Capitalist can pay for the entitlements of his ilk …I’m keeping my money

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 20

  8. Kylopod says:

    Is it normal for final vote-counting in a presidential election to take this long? I can’t recall any previous races in which the count wasn’t complete until more than a month and a half after Election Day. It’s quite possible I just wasn’t paying attention, but somehow I doubt there was a recent election where the popular vote changed by as much as two percentage points by mid-December.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. de stijl says:

    @FSM_47:

    I’m keeping my money

    Tax evasion is a crime.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  10. wr says:

    So Obama cruised to victory, the Dems added seats in the Senate and got more votes than the Rs in the House… clearly, this is a center right country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  11. michael reynolds says:

    @de stijl:

    I doubt he has any money. I’m going to guess: lives in a trailer or run-down home, flies a flag at half-staff all year-round, collects Social Security and Medicare, owns guns and his neighbors tell their kids to avoid him.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 3

  12. superdestroyer says:

    Image how bored all of the wonks and pundits will be in 2016 when everyone will know who will be replacing President Obama in March 2016 after the Democratic Party primary season effectively ends. Given how the analysis will not that the Republicans have zero chance of winning in 2016, the pundits will end up being bored. Maybe most people interested in politics will become like many of the progressive years and spend all of their time thinking about who will be the next target of the weekly two minute hates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 10

  13. SmarterThanAnyProg says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    You Progs own it now. BHO is going to crash this thing harder than you can comprehend in your little prog minds.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 19

  14. EddieInCA says:

    @SmarterThanAnyProg:

    You said that in 2008. Didn’t happen.

    What will you say in 2016, when it still hasn’t happened.

    Lastly, where were you from 2000-2006, when the GOP cratered the economy?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 4

  15. george says:

    I wonder about this. 51-47 is pretty close in any context. I thought this when Bush beat Kerry (and people said it wasn’t even close), and I think it now. Four percentage points isn’t a lot.

    In fact, the only election I can remember which wasn’t close was Reagan-Mondale, where there was about a fifteen percent difference.

    But like they say, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. Obama (like Bush before him) won.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  16. Brummagem Joe says:

    @george:

    4% is a fairly comfortable margin in the context of recent US elections and in fact Obama is the first Democratic presidential candidate since FDR to win re-election with over 50% of the popular vote and I think he’s the first presidential candidate of either party to win over 50% in two successive elections. Off the cuff I’m not sure which is the greatest popular vote landslide in history, probably either FDR 36 or Johnson 64, but in the 36 election Alf Landon still got 36% of the vote. My grandfather who was a rock solid Republican was rather proud of the fact he voted Landon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    he’s the first presidential candidate of either party to win over 50% in two successive elections.

    Oops… I meant to say first presidential candidate from either party since Eisenhower….sorry.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  18. Tony W says:

    This whole 51% meme seems far more likely to reflect the presence (or lack) of a reasonable 3rd party candidate. I suppose those candidates are “successful” only when the major parties completely fail to engage the electorate, but perhaps those days are over now too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. george says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Its true that its a good win by recent standards, but its still pretty close by absolute standards – that all recent US elections are close doesn’t change that. It doesn’t take that much to change 4% of the vote one way or another, which is probably one reason so much time and money is put into campaigning – the parties realize neither has a lock on the electorate. There’d be less incentative to do so if elections were regularly being won say 60-40. Think of many states, which are more or less “safe” one way or the other because the percentages are bigger.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. KPOM says:

    It’s time to face reality. There will NEVER be another Repug ever elected president in this country. We have a permanent Progressive majority. Now we are going to take away your guns, in addition to raising your taxes to pay for our CONSTITUTIONAL Obamacare. Isn’t life wonderful? /s/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  21. Franklin says:

    @SmarterThanAnyProg: Dow’s still up about 50% over what your boy Bush left it at. Yup, I’ll own that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @KPOM:

    What’s your address? I’m warming up my black helicopter and alerting the re-education camp to expect you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  23. Kylopod says:

    @george:

    I wonder about this. 51-47 is pretty close in any context. I thought this when Bush beat Kerry (and people said it wasn’t even close), and I think it now. Four percentage points isn’t a lot.

    Bush beat Kerry by two percentage points, not four.

    Furthermore, Bush won Ohio by just 2.4%; had he lost the state, Kerry would have become president. In contrast, there wasn’t a single state in the 2012 election that Obama’s victory absolutely hinged on. Had Romney won Ohio, Florida, AND Virginia, he still would have lost the election. And those were the ONLY states where Obama led by less than five percentage points.

    That’s not what I call “close.” It wasn’t a landslide, but it wasn’t a squeaker either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  24. george says:

    @Kylopod:

    That’s not what I call “close.” It wasn’t a landslide, but it wasn’t a squeaker either.

    I think there’s a spread from squeaker to landslide, with close being nearer the squeaker end. I’m not sure I’d even call Reagan over Mondale a landslide, fifteen percentage points just isn’t that overwhelming. Now if you win 80-20, that’s landslide territory (and it happens in non-Presidential elections).

    Think of it in a sporting event. Would a 51-47 game strike you as one-sided, or would you say the outcome was close? 51-49 is closer, but still not a squeaker. 50-49 might be a squeaker. 58-40 is one sided, but not a wipe-out … the other team lost, but belonged on the field.

    I think people have just become so used to Presidential elections being close that they’re magnifying differences for emphasis … but four percent remains four percent, ie a difference of 4 parts in a 100.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Barry says:

    @FSM_47: “and Liberal Capitalist can pay for the entitlements of his ilk …I’m keeping my money ”

    No, you aren’t :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Barry says:

    @superdestroyer: “Image how bored all of the wonks and pundits will be in 2016 when everyone will know who will be replacing President Obama in March 2016 after the Democratic Party primary season effectively ends. ”

    From your lips to God’s ear.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Barry says:

    @SmarterThanAnyProg: “You Progs own it now. BHO is going to crash this thing harder than you can comprehend in your little prog minds. ”

    And as things get better, you’ll reach for any excuse you can find.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. Barry says:

    @EddieInCA: “What will you say in 2016, when it still hasn’t happened.”

    He and his ilk will say the exact same thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Barry says:

    @george: “Its true that its a good win by recent standards, but its still pretty close by absolute standards – that all recent US elections are close doesn’t change that. ”

    I’m sure that many on the right now think that the standard for ‘close’ is much higher than they did in 2004.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0