Four years ago, in the wash-up of the last US presidential election, one of the emptier facts being retold — at least in the Australian media — was that George W Bush had received more votes than any previous presidential candidate. This was presented as evidence of how “stunning!” his victory was.
But in fact the candidate who got the second most votes in American history was … John Kerry, the man he had just defeated. A growing population and relatively high turnout tend to do that.
In 2008, both of those conditions apply — the latter in spades — and one or both candidates (depending on how close it is) will certainly receive a record number of votes.
What else might happen? Well, Ronald Reagan’s 1984 clean-sweep-but-one won’t be surpassed; because at time of writing, projections have given each candidate a few States.
But both men will probably do better than the polls have indicated. That’s because there’s a quirk in the way Americans report their opinion polling — at least to the Australian eye. They generally don’t exclude “undecideds”, instead lumping them with everyone but the two (or sometimes three) frontrunners.
So a survey might put Obama on 49 and McCain on 42, with the other nine percent split between Ralph Nader, the Libertarian guy, some other candidates perhaps — and “don’t knows”. This deflates the frontrunners’ percentage support, because on election day ‘undecided’ is not an option and people who stay at home aren’t counted.
Among the many “not since such and such has this and that happened” factoids of recent weeks is that Obama might just be the first Democrat candidate to get more than 50 percent of the vote since Jimmy Carter way back in 1976.
In fact, if he wins at all comfortably, he’ll certainly get more than 50.
The only other Democrat to win since Carter was Bill Clinton, who didn’t manage fifty percent in either 1992 or 1996 because of the presence of a strong third candidate, Ross Perot. With no strong third party this time, a simple “doing of the math” tells you that if Obama beats McCain by anything more than a few points, he will get over half the vote.
As Bush did in his meagre 2004 win.
One day, Americans might replace their electoral college with a direct presidential vote. This would make every vote count equally and ensure the more popular candidate wins office.
And it will mean the end of the never-ending State by State “route to the White House” scenarios that characterised commentary at this election.
What will pundits discuss then — policies?