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On victory margins

While America celebrates Barack Obama's victory--particularly for what it represents--Americans would be wise to remember that his win, while strong, was far from a landslide.

The media in 2008 like to speak of mandates and sea changes, but in fact, Obama's victory is far less decisive than some other recent elections, and McCain's showing was not half bad.

Via Wikipedia, I compiled a list of victory margins by electoral votes for all the presidential elections since the electoral college expanded to 538 votes in the 1960s. Obama's win is mid-pack:

  Year Elected            Won Lost
  1984 Reagan             525  13
  1972 Nixon              520  17
  1980 Reagan             489  49
  1964 Johnson            486  52
  1988 George H. W. Bush  426  111
  1996 Clinton            379  159
  1992 Clinton            370  168
> 2008 Obama              349  163 <
  1968 Richard Nixon      301  191
  1976 Carter             297  240
  2004 George W. Bush     286  251
  2000 George W. Bush     271  266

(Note: two states are still being decided; this post will be updated when the final votes are tallied and declared.)

Obama's victory in terms of the popular vote tells a better story but also comes with a caveat. First, a tip of the cap: his 64,908,616 votes as of this writing are the greatest number of votes ever recorded by a presidential candidate. That is a figure to celebrate.

However, John McCain received more than 57 million votes of his own. Obama's margin of victory by popular vote is 6.3% (which is to say, if the U.S. had a straight democratic vote instead of an electoral college, he'd have won, 53 to 47 percent).

This is a sound victory. But it still leaves 9 out of every 20 people in the other camp. Four elections in the 538-electorate era have had a greater vote margin between winner and loser. Richard Nixon beat George McGovern by 18 million votes out of 77 million; Obama beat McCain by 7.5 million out of 120 million. Yesterday's win was solid but not overwhelming.

Still, this is an academic exercise--Obama earned a far stronger win than either of George W. Bush's campaigns, and his victory forever alters the political landscape in terms of campaigns, backgrounds and style.

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The concoction
3 parts observation
2 parts introspection
1 part links
1 part creativity
1 part stinging wit
dash of sarcasm

The history
The Ideapad debuted on November 1, 1998 and has been through numerous incarnations through the years. It is now a weblog and personal journal.
Once upon a time I wrote Usability: The Site Speaks for Itself (Publisher's page / Amazon.com)
Once in a whenever I consult as User Savvy (dormant)
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