By Teresa Welsh |
Earning about 7 million fewer votes nationwide, President Barack Obama won re-election by a significantly smaller margin than he won the White House in 2008 (7 percent versus 2 percent). Indeed, the national popular vote for president revealed that while Obama cobbled together a majority, the country remains closely divided between the two major political parties (50 percent to 48 percent). Were Obama to attempt to claim a mandate from this popular vote result his efforts would likely seem slightly absurd—not all that different than President George W. Bush making that claim in 2005.
But the national popular vote is not what matters; the Electoral College vote is. And by that measure, Obama's in fine shape to claim an electoral mandate—better shape than was Bush, who only won 286 electoral votes. By turning out his deeply loyal base and winning all but two of the 10 battleground states (Indiana and North Carolina), President Barack Obama overcame a weak economy and the historical averages that were stacked against him to win what will likely be (after Florida's votes are awarded) more than 330 of the 538 electoral votes.
Even though the Congress will remain divided with the Republicans in charge of the House and the Democrats in control of the Senate, the president's broad electoral vote win provides him with more political capital than he's had since the 2010 midterm elections. Further, the sense that Obama won re-election decisively not only affirms his past policies (e.g., healthcare reform) and allows him to press ahead with his governance vision, but also bolsters his party's political prospects in the near future.
The reality is this: The election was close, the parties are nearly at parity, the government remains divided, the gridlock is unlikely to ease, and the politics in Washington are sure to be as bitter in the near future as they've been in the recent past. But the institution of the Electoral College has provided Obama with an opportunity he wouldn't have otherwise had. Perhaps now—at long last—the Democrats will cease their criticisms of the Electoral College and begin to appreciate its popular vote-magnifying effect.
About Lara Brown Assistant Political Science Professor at Villanova University
Brad Bannon President of Bannon Communications Research