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Memo to Jay Cost: Obama Won a Larger Percentage of the Popular Vote in 2008 than Reagan in 1980

Jay Cost argues that Obama "misread his mandate" and overreached by endorsing the public plan. Not only does Cost fail to note that the public plan is extremely popular, he offers this absurd analysis.

Yet the election of 2008 was not like the 1932 contest. It wasn’t like 1952, 1956, 1964, 1972, 1980, 1984, or even 1988, either. Obama’s election was narrower than all of these. FDR won 42 of 48 states. Eisenhower won 39, then 41. Johnson won 44 of 50. Nixon won 49. Reagan won 44, then 49. George H.W. Bush won 40. Obama won 28, three fewer than George W. Bush in his narrow 2004 reelection.

How many ways is this wrong?

First, and there’s a no duh aspect to this, presidential elections aren’t decided by number of states won. In 2008, Obama netted 365 electoral votes, trouncing George W. Bush’s 2004 total of 286. And despite the fact that Bush was an incumbent, he managed only 50.7% of the popular vote, less than Obama’s 52.9%. More Americans voted for Obama (69 million) than any other presidential candidate in history, including Bush in ’04 (62 million).

The bottom line: to unfavorably compare Obama’s performance in 2008 to George W. Bush’s in 2004 is by any meaningful metric, ridiculous.

Last November, the American people gave Obama expanded majorities in the House (+21) and Senate (+8), the first time that a new president has been given that much legislative power to enact his agenda in many decades. Not even FDR managed to pulled that off in 1932 — the GOP controlled the Senate in 1930. Obama’s coattails were longer than Eisenhower’s in 1952 (+22, +2), and though Reagan’s 1980 total congressional haul was greater, he failed to take the House away from the Democrats.

Back to Obama’s 52.9% of the popular vote in 2008: it was the largest majority since George H.W Bush in 1988, and greater than Reagan’s 50.7% in 1980. That’s right, a higher percentage of Americans voted for Obama’s Democratic agenda in 2008 than for the "Reagan Revolution."

Yet somehow I doubt conservatives like Jay Cost were demanding Reagan pursue a "centrist" agenda in 1981, in spite of the fact that he faced a 50-seat deficit in the Tip O’Neill-led Democratic House and had a slim 7-seat cushion in the Senate — all in an era when the term "Republican moderate" wasn’t yet an oxymoron.

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