Barack Obama’s national vote margin over John McCain yesterday looks to be about seven percent, around what the polls said it would be. By comparison, George W Bush defeated John Kerry by 2.4 percent in 2004 and lost to Al Gore by 0.5 percent in 2000.

But the gap is not as large as Bill Clinton’s in 1996, which was around eight. And for really big ones, around twenty percent or more, see Reagan v Mondale (1984), Nixon v McGovern (1972) and Johnson v Goldwater (1964).

(These also dwarf Kevin Rudd’s 2007 margin over John Howard of 5.4 percent.)

Apparently a majority of white people voted for McCain, but were swamped by African Americans (who constitute about 13 percent of the population) and Hispanics (about 15 percent of Americans). Obama-voters may have constituted about these these respective percentages of each group: the low forties; mid nineties; and mid seventies. Turnout is another variable.

But Democrat Jimmy Carter was also said to lose among white voters in 1976 and perhaps the same was true of Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Latino numbers have grown a lot since the 1970s, and even since the 1990s, which must benefit the Democrats.

As is the way of elections, everything the winner did will be deemed brilliant, and everything the loser did was hopeless. But McCain’s only big blunder was in choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. It was after that that Obama’s opinion poll leads blew out.

‘The Palin effect’ is a phrase that will probably never be coined, but it should be. It would signify a dramatic move that sends a party’s base into rapturous high fives, and appeals to voters on some level, but still sends the middle ground running to the other candidate. We had something similar in Australia with Mark Latham in 2003-4.

Conservative Australian commentators proved more susceptible to the Palin effect phenomenon than their more grounded American counterparts.

After the 2004 election loss, wackier Democrats complained that if the left-wing Howard Dean had been the candidate, he would have defeated Bush. Similarly, today a few souls on the other side are not only maintaining Palin was a plus, but that she should be Republican candidate in 2012!

That’s called throwing good money after bad.

Peter Fray

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