Romney vs. McCain and Obama vs. Bush? Who Wins?

Paul Kengor

12/7/2012 12:01:00 AM - Paul Kengor

Editor’s note: This article first appeared at American Spectator.

Shortly after the November election, I wrote an article titled, “McCain Beats Romney!” The article focused on initial reports showing that Mitt Romney received fewer votes in 2012 than John McCain received in 2008. Those reports utterly shocked and depressed conservatives.

How many fewer votes? It looked like Romney got 2-3 million less votes than McCain. I wrote at the time: “Additional votes are still coming in, but, as of the time of my writing, Romney received around 57.8 million votes in 2012. In 2008, John McCain received 59.9 million. Romney got over 2 million less votes than McCain.”

More votes remained out there. Nonetheless, when the final count was tallied, I figured that Romney would still receive fewer votes than McCain.

Well, the final count is alas approaching, chronicled by the 2012 National Popular Vote Tracker, maintained by David Wasserman. And it has a rare flicker of good news for Mitt Romney: He has surpassed John McCain’s 2008 vote total.

The latest near-final tally has Romney with 60.7 million votes, which is higher than McCain’s 59.9 million votes. That’s the good news for Mitt Romney. The bad news: It’s not a lot higher than McCain’s total, and certainly not high enough to have overtaken Barack Obama. In fact, Romney’s total is only about 1 percent higher than McCain’s.

Who would have predicted that? Republicans expected far more votes for Mitt Romney in 2012 than McCain got in 2008. Sorry, didn’t happen.

So, Mitt Romney beats John McCain, but he didn’t beat Barack Obama.

But before liberals boast about and celebrate a spectacular victory, there’s additional interesting data from the near-final vote tally. It relates not to Romney and McCain but to Barack Obama and George W. Bush—the two most recent presidents to be reelected. Consider these striking numbers:

Barack Obama was reelected with a little under 51 percent of the vote, similar to George W. Bush in his reelection. They both round up to 51 percent. Bush was reelected with 50.7 percent of the vote. Obama’s final tally remains in flux. A week-and-a-half ago, it was 50.7 percent. The latest is 50.9 percent. It could go up slightly or down slightly, but not by much.

In effect, Obama and Bush had near-equal reelection percentages, though Obama got more popular and Electoral College votes than Bush. But before liberals dub that a victory for Obama, they should consider more data:

Barack Obama is the first president to be reelected with less popular votes and less Electoral College votes. He got 4.2 million less votes in 2012 than in 2008. Obama also significantly decreased his margin of victory, shifting from a 7.3-percent margin in 2008 to a 3.6-percent margin in 2012.

To the contrary, George W. Bush gained a staggering 11.6 million more total votes in 2004 than he had in 2000. Bush also increased his percent-margin from minus 0.5 percent in 2000 to plus 2.4 percent in 2004.

And though Obama’s Electoral College victory in his reelection was larger than Bush’s, it still decreased.

Bush’s reelection also included his party retaining Congress. In fact, Republicans in 2004 picked up seats in both the House and the Senate, with sizable majorities in both. Obama was unable to come anywhere near that—quite the contrary. In 2012, Democrats retained the Senate but Republicans continued their huge margin in the House.

And there’s more: Bush was reelected with a larger number of states, winning 30 in 2000 (plus 10) and 31 in 2004 (plus 12). Obama lost states, going from 28 in 2008 (plus 6) to 26 in 2012 (plus 2), which is a bare majority. And should we even mention counties? The county map under Bush was a sea of red, and it remained a sea of red under Obama.

For Obama and liberals, this isn’t much to brag about, and hardly a sweeping mandate. Overall, it is difficult to claim that Barack Obama’s reelection is much more decisive than George W. Bush’s. If liberals didn’t see a mandate for Bush in 2004, they certainly shouldn’t be heralding one for Obama in 2012.

In terms of raw numbers, this was not a huge victory for Barack Obama—a fact that ought to give Republicans some hope for 2016, assuming they can turn out notably more people in 2016 than they did in 2012 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Republicans, it was just enough of a victory for Barack Obama to continue his “fundamental transformation” of this country.