Broad trends and the national political undertow can't be adequately captured in any single statistic -- but if Mitt Romney had managed to push the electorate in a handful of states a few clicks in his direction, he'd be the president-elect, rather than an also-ran. Via Jim Geragthy:
Those four states, with a collective margin of, 406,348 for Obama, add up to 69 electoral votes. Had Romney won 407,000 or so additional votes in the right proportion in those states, he would have 275 electoral votes.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda speculation is a useless exercise at this stage; the fact remains that Romney didn't. But these numbers also demonstrate how a campaign's granular-level decisions about priorities -- how it allocates time and resources, etc -- really can impact the trajectory of an entire nation. As I reported on Friday, the Romney campaign's internal polling wrongly indicated that three of the four states listed above were relatively safely in the Republican's column. Their resulting moves in Nevada, Pennsylvania and elsewhere may have gained some aggregate votes (President Obama's victory margin was slashed in every single swing state -- considerably, in most cases), but allowed the Obama camp's turnout machine to clinch things in the core battleground states. Then again, before conservatives start chalking up the loss to just 407,000 votes, the national vote wasn't particularly close. Obama's margins in these four states are a product of the larger trend. As of this writing, with some votes still being tabulated, Obama has just eclipsed 62 million popular votes (51 percent); Romney sits at roughly 59 million votes (48 percent). Sean Trende sees these results as contributing to something of a "Bizarro 2004" election:
One of the more intriguing narratives for election 2012 was proposed by political scientist Brendan Nyhan fairly early on: that it was "Bizarro 2004." The parallels to that year certainly were eerie: An incumbent adored by his base but with middling approval ratings nationally faces off against an uncharismatic, wishy-washy official from Massachusetts. The race is tight during the summer until the president breaks open a significant lead after his convention. Then, after a tepid first debate for the incumbent, the contest tightens, bringing the opposition tantalizingly close to a win, but not quite close enough.
In 2004, President Bush won 51 percent of the popular vote to John Kerry's 48 percent. In that cycle, Republicans made unexpected gains in the Senate to build a 55-45 majority, while control of the House didn't change. Following Tuesday's elections, Democrats will hold a 55-45 Senate majority, and control of the House won't change (unlike '04, this result will guarantee divided government). Obama has received seven million fewer votes in 2012 than he did 2008, and his electoral vote tally also fell by 26 votes. Obama is the first president in US history to win re-election despite (a) winning fewer electoral votes, (b) a diminished popular vote total, and (c) a lower aggregate vote nationwide. In 2004, Democrats' rallying cry was "51 percent isn't a mandate." They fought Bush and the Republicans tooth and nail, and ultimately benefited in subsequent elections. Will similar obstinance redound to the GOP's benefit? Perhaps, although their demographic challenges are serious. Republicans have an even stronger case that Obama has no mandate. Unlike Bush, his vote totals and margins decreased compared to his first election, he didn't run on any concrete agenda, and voters returned Republicans to a double-digit advantage in the House of Representatives. Will Obama try to claim a mandate? Signals are mixed thus far (this piece is helpful on this point). Plus, Republicans are already making conciliatory noises about compromising on the fiscal cliff and immigration reform. Purely from the perspective of political science, 2013 will be a fascinating year.