Obama’s Landslide in Perspective
In the discussion on Obama’s apparent 365-173 Electoral College victory, Rodney Dill asks, “How close is this, historically? The popular vote difference seems like it was pretty big by modern standards, but usually that would result in an even more lopsided electoral vote.”
It’s an interesting question. Dave Leip’s Atlas has the results for every election.
- In 1980, the first election I seriously paid attention to, Ronald Reagan’s 50.75% of the vote gave him a 9.25% margin over Jimmy Carter, with 41.01%, with Republican sore loser John Anderson getting 6.61%. That translated into an Electoral College landslide of 489-49.
- In 1984, Reagan beat Walter Mondale 58.77% to 40.56% to get an Electoral College landslide of 525 to 13, with Mondale winning only his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
- In 1988, George H.W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis 53.37% to 45.65% and won the Electoral vote 426 to 111.
- In 1992, Bill Clinton beat Bush 43.01 to 37.45, with Ross Perot getting 18.91% and finished with an Electoral College margin of 370 to 168.
- In 1996, Clinton beat Bob Dole 49.24 to 40.72, with Perot pulling 8.4% — comparable to Reagan’s margin over Carter — and won 379 to 159.
- In 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore in the Electoral College 271 to 266 (one Gore Elector from DC abstained) despite losing the popular vote 47.87% to 48.38%.
- In 2004, Bush beat John Kerry 50.73% to 48.27% and took the Electoral vote 286 to 251.
- In 2008, Obama beat John McCain 52.34% to 46.31% — roughly Bush 41’s margin over Dukakis — to get a much smaller Electoral College margin.
I suppose I should do some sort of sophisticated social science statistical analysis of these data but one presume’s it’s been done already. Eyeballing it, though, it seems that there’s very little correlation between popular vote margin and Electoral vote margin.
One thing to keep in mind with the foregoing analysis, too, is that it’s very much skewed by California. In the first three of these elections, it was a reliable Republican state; since then, it’s been reliably Democratic. (Obama won 2/3 of the vote this year; Reagan won by a 17 point margin in 1980 and 16 points in 1984.) Presidential candidates don’t bother to campaign there, except for fundraising purposes. Regardless, its 55 Electoral votes grossly distorts the picture.