Obama's 2008 Victory in Perspective

It’s going to happen, and we all know it: after two close elections, some Democrats are going to claim that Obama’s margin of victory over John McCain was a large, overwhelming repudiation of the Republican party, and that it was possibly even a historical turning point of partisan political realignment.

There’s just one problem with that theory: It’s not true.

Presidential Margins of Victory

See the image to the right (and click for the full version): It’s a complicated chart, but it has a lot to say. On it are illustrated the popular vote and electoral vote victory margins of every Presidential election 1900-2008, assuming Obama gets North Carolina and McCain gets Missouri. This also only counts Republicans and Democrats, and third parties are ignored.

Also on the chart are the mean Popular Vote and Electoral Vote margins since World War II, that is, counting the 1948-2008 elections. From that we can see one fact right away: Obama’s victory is below average. We can also look at the tiny bars representing the 2000 and 2004 elections to see that comparing with those races is simply not any kind of standard to use when judging an election.

Eisenhower 1952 and 1956. Johnson 1964. Nixon 1972. Reagan 1980 and 1984. Those elections set the standard for a blowout. Obama? His win doesn’t look like those other Presidents I just listed. He’s just slightly below average, sorry.

So rest at ease, Republicans. Even if this win isn’t a fluke, it’s not a permanent game changer.