Marginal wins in presidential election 2008

Three states’ electoral votes in 2008 were won with less than a majority and with at least one third-party/independent candidate having more votes than the margin between the top two. One other state was likewise won with less than a majority, with two candidates combining for more than the margin.

Won by Obama with 49.92% over McCain’s 48.96%
Obama margin over McCain: 26,163
Bob Barr: 29,196

Won by McCain with 49.44% over Obama’s 49.24%
McCain margin over Obama: 5,868
Ralph Nader: 17,769
Bob Barr: 11,355
Chuck Baldwin: 8,181
(Cynthia McKinney: 958)

Won by McCain with 49.66% to Obama’s 47.16%
McCain margin over Obama: 12,136
Ron Paul: 10,499
Ralph Nader: 3,570
Bob Barr: 1,300

North Carolina
Won by Obama with 49.70% over McCain’s 49.38%
Obama margin over McCain: 13,692
Bob Barr: 25,408

It is very likely that votes for Ralph Nader (at 3.03 times the margin) cost Obama the electoral votes of Missouri and that votes for Bob Barr (at 1.86 times the margin) cost McCain the electoral votes of North Carolina. As for Montana and Indiana, as well as the vote totals of Barr and Baldwin in Missouri, because I will not assume that all Barr/Baldwin/Paul votes would have gone to McCain or all Nader/McKinney to Obama, it is harder to say, but an affect on the outcome is certainly possible.

Fortunately, the choice of President did not hinge on these states. But it is well past time that we did away with the electoral college and plurality voting.

Source: Dave Leip, with an assist from good old Wikipedia (where, unlike at Leip or the media sites I checked, someone bothered to enter the individual candidate totals for candidates not named McCain or Obama.)

7 thoughts on “Marginal wins in presidential election 2008

  1. The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule enacted by 48 states, under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The bill is currently endorsed by 1,181 state legislators — 439 sponsors (in 47 states) and an additional 742 legislators who have cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  2. Obama also did not win a majority of the vote in the one Nebraska district where he won an electoral vote. The margin was 1260 votes, although the only candidate to have more than that was Nader, with 1502. (Barr and Baldwin combined for 1093.)

  3. I am sorry this is not quite on topic, but I want to bring up an interesting fact about Missouri which was probably won by McCain by just a small percentage of the total votes.

    If the votes hold up, this will be the first time in over 100 years that Missouri did not give its electoral votes to the winning candidate. (The last time Missouri lost was in 1900 when it voted for Williams Jennings Bryan).

    Considering that we still use the electoral college, I really would like to hear more discussion about how often some states have their choice for president more than other states and what effect that has on policy (if any). It’s not just about battleground states – though in the same 100 year period Ohio has also chosen the winning candidate all but two times (when it voted against Truman and Kennedy).

    Not many states have come close to that achievement. And at the opposite end, poor Mississippi and Alambama have only won 48% of the time from 1904.

  4. Actually, the streak for Missouri and Ohio voting with the country was broken in 2000. I don’t think we can give either state’s voters “credit” for predicting the point at which Bush’s Florida campaign manager would “certify” the winner, or predicting the outcome of a Supreme Court intervention.

    Historical maps at 270towin, for those interested in exploring.

  5. Prof. S,

    I don’t quite understand what you mean by 2000. Because I’m not trying to say which candidate got the most analyze the citizens. Instead I’m wondering in policy making terms, do the states (rather than the people) who vote for the eventual president have more favorable policies enacted?

    Of course in most elections, most of the states vote for the winning candidate. However, this was not true in 1960 and 1976 – both Kennedy and Carter won with less than 50% of the states (but more than 50% of the electoral college).

    I think if our institutions are set up to recognize the states rather than the people, shouldn’t the states get the rewards of policy making? Even if the benefit is weighted by electoral vote? Of course, in Congress this is true. But for the president, does that get factored in given his gatekeeper status over future laws?

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