Presidential Percentages

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The last Democrat to win 50 percent of the so-called "popular vote"* for President was Jimmy Carter in 1976, with 50.081 percent. Bill Clinton never did: he got 43 and 49 percent, respectively. Before Carter it was LBJ in '64 with 61 percent. Before that, FDR with 53 percent in 1944. Truman and Kennedy never got 50 percent, either.

So two of the five Democrats since FDR did not get 50 percent, but all five elected Republicans got 50 percent of the "popular vote:" Eisenhower twice, Nixon once (second term), Reagan twice, Bush I once, and Bush II once (second term) all got 50 percent.

Also note that of the five, only Clinton was elected for two terms; four of the five Republicans were elected for two terms.

It's a grand total of, since FDR, seven-of-nine terms with more than 50 percent of the vote for Republicans, versus two-of-six for the Democrats.

I looked all this up because I knew Clinton never got 50 percent, but wasn't sure about all the rest before Reagan (only a few, like Nixon in '72). And I was thinking about Clinton, because it is hard for me to see how Bill Clinton could only 49 percent of the vote against Bob Dole in '96, and Hillary could be expected to do much better against John McCain in '08. I know there's 12 years separating the two, but Bill was much more popular than Hillary, and Dole much less so than McCain.

Of course, Obama might win the nomination. He has a chance to win ... unless people actually look at his record and his platform.

Now, granted, the last time a Democrat won with more than 50 percent was when the popularity of the GOP was at a nearly all-time low. And that's the normal story: the last three majority-popular-vote winners for the Democrats were propelled to victory by tragedy: the Great Depression, JFK's assassination, and Watergate. Two of those were blamed directly on the GOP.

And we see some of the same this year: a very unpopular Republican Party. The difference this time is that the Democratic Party today has nowhere near the popularity of '32 or '64. It's a lot closer today to '76, where Carter won not so much because he was a Democrat (who were at the time still viewed negatively largely because of Vietnam and civil rights), but because the Democrats weren't Republicans. But Carter was facing the man who pardoned Nixon, who while well-liked, was not widely respected across the country for many actions taken over the course of his long political career. And it was merely two years after the pardon. And despite all that, Ford still made it a very close election.

McCain is in a very different situation. Voters have already taken out their frustrations on the GOP in 2006, removing them from power in both houses of Congress. And McCain is not viewed as having strong ties to most of the problems of the Bush Administration, except Iraq, and even there, McCain has a strong record of opposing the methods used by Bush, whether on torture or military strategy or troop deployment. Of course, the Democrats are already trying to tie him to Bush as much as possible, but for most people whose votes are available, it won't work.

I've thought for a long time that McCain was the best candidate to face the Democrats, and everything I've seen in the intervening two-plus years has only backed that up, including history. And that's not even including a potential "Nader factor" (who will likely increase his influence over 2004, where he became an essential nonfactor because the anti-Bush factor was much stronger than it will be this time, and drove more people to vote for Kerry).

* Of course, the "popular vote" has no real meaning by itself, so feel free to disregard everything I say about it.

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