"It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt." -- JP Curran, 1790

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Historical significance of Obama: 2008

As a person who's interpretations ride on a historical compass, I was inclined to measure the lauded "Obama mandate" as a result of his victory. First I wanted to see how significant his Electoral Vote (EV) totals and margin of victory were in comparison to past elections. Second, I wanted to see how significant his Popular Vote total were in comparison to those same past elections. And finally, in a post to follow, I wanted to see the demographics to judge his constituency and mandate beneficiaries.

Before we get started, the source of all of this data is: Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections http://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/

Let's start with the winning Presidential candidates EV as a % of the Total number of available EV. Since EV totals have varied throughout our history, I can't measure the total but rather the percent of the total to measure the scale victory.

Obama in 2008, won 365 of the 537 EV or 68%. Of the 55 elections that preceded 2008, lets analyze how many of the winners got more or less that 68% of the total available EV.
  • 26 got less than 68%
  • 1 got exactly 68%
  • 28 got more than 68%

So in terms of capturing a percentage of the available EV, this was an average election. When we put it on a graph we see that this election is lackluster in regard to the victories in 1984, 1972, 1964, 1936, 1864, 1820, and 1804. In the past 20 years we had more competitive races. Excluding the rollercoaster from 1936 to 1984, this ironically trends more like the turn of the 20th century than in any other point. Coming off some tight victories (divided populous) we see a growing pattern from 1876 to 1932 with increasingly aligned population (Republicans won 9 of those 14 elections). So maybe this indicates a coming tide of Democratic control of the Executive, but let's examine further.


Next I wanted to look at the Margin of Victory in EV as a % of the total available EV.

In 2008 Obama's Margin of Victory was 193 EV (365-192) which is 36% of the total 537 EV. Again let's compare that with the 55 elections preceding 2008:

  • 25 got less than 36%
  • 2 got exactly 36%
  • 28 got more than 36%

More evidence that this was an average victory. Translate the margin of victory into alignment of the electorate behind a candidate, party, or ideas and historically the victory doesn't seem all that grand. When put on a graph, most of the results match the % of total numbers above due to the dominance of 2 parties. However, when you look at some of the blowout victories in history, they are winning by +80% of available EV. That's a unified country! So this analysis only re-enforces the first's conclusion that Obama's victory is substantial but not historic.


Now let's look at the Popular Vote. Note that the Popular Vote is only regarded from 1824 forward. Due to lack of accuracy and tracking prior to that election, the numbers of previous elections are generally discarded.

In 2008 Obama received 52.6% of the popular vote. Comparing the 46 elections from 1824 to 2004:
  • 26 got less than 52.6%
  • 0 got exactly 52.6%
  • 20 got more than 52.6%

Once again, in mathematical context this is only a average victory and indicates a polarized electorate. Since 1988 the winner has not had more than 50% of the popular vote. Even in the blowout elections they barely broke 60%.


So why is this considered such a big election win? My hypothesis:
  1. We have had so many close election recently so, short-term memory is the cause
  2. First election in a long time that didn't include a present or former President or Vice President
  3. The majority of people feel that the country in on the wrong track, so there is a longing for unity and direction
  4. The gains for the Dems in Congress.
  5. The media/pundits' guy won!
  6. The other historical significance; 1st Black President.

The more they overhype this victory, the more difficult it will be for Obama to meet the expectations. It will also make it easier for Conservative to re-brand the Republican party. From now on I will refer to it as the "New Republican Party". I suggest this tag is adopted by the GOP Leadership once the necessary changes take place because the Republican Party is a damaged brand.

The good news is that there is still a Conservative voter base to build upon. In my next post I'll analyze the Exit Poll data to figure out where Obama gained, who is constituency is, and where we need to target in this re-birth.

Signing off...JCB

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