Much has been said since 2012 about the Republican candidate losing the popular vote in five of the last six elections for President and what it means for 2016, but it’s important to have some perspective on this number. It is actually not as bad as it appears at first glance, especially when that number is compared to the Democrats’ results in the popular vote since Jimmy Carter was elected.
Ronald Reagan, of course, won the popular vote in 1980 and 1984. George H. W. Bush won the popular vote in 1998. But while Bush lost the popular vote in 1992, Bill Clinton did not exactly “win” it. In afct, he was elected President despite winning only 43% of the vote. Clinton then got only 49% of the vote in 1996, meaning that 51% of voters wanted to replace the incumbent Democratic President. Four years after that, Al Gore got more votes than George W. Bush, but again failed to win a majority of the popular vote.
Prior to Barack Obama winning the White House in 2008, Democrats had failed to win a majority of the popular vote in seven consecutive elections.When Obama won a majority in 2008, it was the first time a Democratic candidate for President had won the popular vote in thirty-two years. That victory by the Democratic candidate was a historic event, because of the consistent failure to win a popular vote majority, and would have been regardless of Obama’s skin pigmentation.
So, yes, Republicans have been in a popular vote drought since 1988, with 2004 being the lone exception. But does anyone remember the talk about a “permanent Republican majority” after the 2004 election? That lasted all of two years, when Democrats captured the House and Senate in 2006. Obama would win the Presidency two years after that, but talk of a permanent shift in our politics was ended by a Republican landslide in 2010.
The bottom line is politics is a very shaky business, and talk of any sort of permanence is foolish.