Thursday, November 11, 2004

The WaPo, on Bush's 51% mandate.
When is a mandate a mandate?

President Bush won more than 59 million votes last week -- more than any other presidential candidate in history and enough, his supporters have said, to claim a mandate. But other comparisons between this year's election results and those of previous contests suggest his win was somewhat less decisive.

Bush's unofficial three-percentage-point margin of victory, for example, was the fifth smallest since 1920. John F. Kennedy won in 1960 with 0.2 percent more votes than Richard M. Nixon. Nixon, in turn, won in 1968 with a slim 0.7 percent advantage over Hubert H. Humphrey. In 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald R. Ford by 2.1 percent. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral one. Conversely, 10 of the previous 21 presidential races were won by at least 10 percentage points -- and five of them were decided by more than 20 points.

Bush's chunk of the popular vote -- unofficially, 51 percent -- also places him in the middle of this historical pack. Thirteen of the winners of the previous 21 elections won a larger share of the vote. Lyndon B. Johnson won the highest percentage, when he swamped Barry Goldwater in 1964 with 61.1 percent. Bill Clinton won with the lowest, when he took 43 percent in 1992. Bush, however, is the first to win a majority of the popular vote since 1988.

While he won more votes than any previous presidential candidate, second place goes to John F. Kerry, who took 56 million votes. Ronald Reagan came in third with 54.5 million in 1984, when he defeated Walter F. Mondale by 18 percentage points, followed by Al Gore with 50.9 million in 2000 and Bush, again, who won 50.4 million votes the same year.