Popular or unpopular, you can still be President – or maybe not
Tomas Mega, Las Vegas, Nevada
Here is a quick American Civics trivia quiz:
- What did Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Clinton & George W. Bush all have in common?
Answer: All became Presidents without a majority of the American people voting for them. Clinton became President twice without the majority of Americans voting for him.
- What did Presidential candidates Samuel J. Tilden in 1876, Grover Cleveland in 1888, and Al Gore in 2000 all have in common?
Answer: All failed to win the American Presidency despite the majority of American people voting for them.
How can this happen in the world’s foremost democracy?
The answer lies in the messy – and many argue unfair – invention of America’s Founding Fathers: The Electoral College. Each of America’s fifty states has as many ‘electors’ as it has Representatives and Senators in the United States Congress.
The race to the Presidency is not about winning the popular vote. It’s about winning the states with the most electors, the 270 needed to become President. Swing states, those unreliable to either party because they tend to vote Democratic in one election, and Republican in another, are crucial because neither candidate is likely to win each of the states with the most electoral votes. If that were to happen in 2012, the election could be won by a candidate winning only 11 of the 50 states. But that is improbable; California, with its 55 electoral votes has not voted for a Republican since 1988, and Texas with its 38 electoral votes hasn’t voted for a Democrat since 1976.
Current opinion polls, while notoriously unreliable four months before an election, suggest that Obama and Romney are nearly statistical tied. But according to a recent survey by the Real Clear Politics website, Obama has 227 ‘leaning’ electoral votes, while Romney has 170. That should be no comfort to Obama. States like Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Illinois and Nevada, with 75 combined electoral votes in 2012, were all won by Obama in 2008. But those states have been hard hit by the economic downturn, and if the economy continues to worsen, Obama could lose some or all of them. Add to the list Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida, with their 62 electoral votes in 2012, which Obama won in 2008. If all those states swing Republican in November, it’s game over for Obama.
Strange things happen in swing states. Wisconsin hasn’t voted for a Republican Presidential candidate in 28 years. But in June, their Republican governor, vilified by Democrats for stripping public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights, handily won a recall vote. That message from Wisconsin is not what the Obama campaign wanted to hear.
Lately, Obama’s campaign has been on the back foot, and Romney is capitalizing by rubbishing everything the President has to say. Obama’s most recent ‘gaffe’ occurred at a press conference when he stated that the ‘private sector is doing just fine.’ And blaming Europe for America’s economic woes doesn’t seem to be playing well either. American’s don’t want to hear it.
Equally worrisome for Democrats is that Obama looks hesitant, defensive and unconvincing in many of his public speeches. He is not the Obama of 2008. “Yes we can!” seems to have given way to “Maybe we can.”
Democrats hope that the brilliant minds that orchestrated Obama’s 2008 victory have planned for all of this, and, somehow, they will regain the initiative. They might take heart that Republicans haven’t had any new economic ideas in 12 years. Their theme remains tax cuts, including for the super-rich, downsize government, de-regulate Wall Street and business, all that goodness will trickle down and we will live happily ever after. But recent polls seem to indicate that American voters don’t mind the same old Republican re-cycled economic message. They are giving Romney the nod as to who is better for the economy.
How the swing states eventually ‘swing’ is still unknown. Much can happen in four months. But it is clear that Obama needs something to cheer about. Barring some stunning event that will hand either candidate a landslide victory, America’s swing states may once again elect a President that the majority of voters don’t want to be President.