It’s that favorite night of some people’s year – the night we turn the clocks back an hour and stop saving the daylight (and so get an “extra hour” of sleep). It’s also almost exactly 3 days until the polls close here in Oregon in the 2016 general election, when we may have some inkling of who might be our next president, governor, senator, representative, and city council members, among others, and whether our most expensive ballot measure ever, Measure 97, passes or fails. So many other issues are on our ballots and on yours, perhaps, if you live in one of the other 49 of the United States (loosely speaking), with one of my favorites being a carbon tax in my old home state of Washington.
But my Facebook feed has been dominated lately by posts about the possibility of Donald J. Trump winning the presidency, and how REALLY BAD that would be. Some posts have suggested that a landslide defeat of Trump would heal our country. One such post tonight prompted me to take a look at our presidential elections since 1968 (when I was old enough to start following these things – no need to look it up, I was 10) to see how this one fits into history, and I found some really intriguing results.
Let’s start at the present.
According to Nate Silver’s 538 site, the presidential race is pretty close (the link will update constantly, so my numbers here may change by the time you read this). The popular vote projections are: Clinton 48.4%, Trump 45.5%, Johnson 4.5% and Other (mainly Stein) 1.6%. Clinton has 291 electoral votes according to 538’s forecast, Trump 246, and somebody named Evan McMullin from Utah with less than one (I had never even heard of him!), and even Johnson with 0.1 (nobody from a third party has gotten any electoral votes since 1972, when John Hospers got 1, after George Wallace picked up 46 electoral votes in 1968). [I find it amazing that after Bernie Sanders won the votes of several million young people in the primaries, who said they would never vote for Clinton, that Jill Stein only is only getting 1.6% in the polls, since Stein and Sanders have similar platforms (actually, Stein, the Green, is even better – more progressive – than Sanders, especially on foreign affairs).]
So unless things change drastically in the next 3 days, this will not be a landslide, especially in the popular vote. I think we will have to live with the continuing stigma of a divided country politically, and it’s likely that even if Clinton wins, there will be plenty of turmoil in D.C. and beyond.
But history has some interesting things to consider when it comes to presidential elections. This quick wade through the data from 1968 to 2012 is packed with facts about third parties, which states were red and blue, turnout, and certainly with some colorful personalities. So come into the electoral waters with me…
Besides the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and the ensuing wild Democratic Convention in Chicago, this race was a doozy. The popular vote went to Nixon 43.4% to Humphrey’s 42.7% (incredibly close!), with Wallace getting a whopping 13.5%! Wallace was an extremely successful third-party candidate of the American Independent Party, which is now only in California, and was recently part of the Constitution Party (which is running Darrell Castle for president this round). Wallace won 5 southern states, Nixon won California, Oregon and Vermont, and Humphrey won Texas. The electoral college map was very different in the past, a trend that continued until recently. The turnout was about 60%, high in comparison to the next few contests.
This one is the landslide victory for Nixon that changed the game politically for the major parties. Nixon won over 60% of the popular vote, and every state except Massachusetts (McGovern also won D.C.). The third party candidate who won the most popular votes (1.42%) was John Schmitz of the American Independent Party (Wallace decided to run in the Democratic primary). The most notable third party candidate was Benjamin Spock of the People’s Party. The Socialist Workers Party seems to have fielded 2 female candidates. Ah, it was a different time back then…
After Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford took over, and ran against Jimmy Carter in this election, which saw Carter win the popular vote by another slim margin (50-48%). Turnout was 53.6%, down slightly from the 1972 election. The Pacific Coast states were still red, and Texas was blue again. The South went to Carter, who was from Georgia. Eugene McCarthy ran as an independent, and got almost 1% of the vote. Other interesting candidates who ran included Lester Maddox and Lyndon LaRouche, who has been a perennial candidate since, but in this election, ran on the U.S. Labor Party ticket.
This was the first election I voted in, and I voted for John Anderson, the independent, who won 6.6% of the popular vote, and was regarded as a spoiler who won the election for Ronald Reagan. The election was considered a landslide, because Reagan won 489 electoral votes, winning all but 6 states, but the popular vote was relatively close (50.7-41%) between the two major parties. The Pacific Coast states were red again. Anderson split from the Republicans after losing in the primaries, but most of his support came from fiscally conservative and socially liberal college students like me. Barry Commoner ran on the Citizens Party ticket, which he started, and which dissolved in 1987.
Another landslide. This time incumbent Reagan beat Walter Mondale, Carter’s vice president, 58.8% to 40.6% in the popular vote, but won every state except Mondale’s home state of Minnesota in the electoral college. Geraldine Ferraro was the big news as the first female major party candidate on the presidential ticket as Mondale’s running mate. Anderson declined to run third party again, but LaRouche did, getting 0.09% of the vote as an independent. I remember these days. It was a sad time in U.S. history, but Reagan was popular, and life went on. And no, the book was not prescient, yet.
Turnout by now was down to about 50%. George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s VP, crushed Michael Dukakis, winning 40 states in the electoral college, but the popular vote was more even, 53.4% to 45.6%. Oregon and Washington voted for Dukakis, starting a blue trend that continues today. Ron Paul ran his first presidential election bid as the Libertarian candidate, but there were far fewer third party candidates than in previous years. Most progressives were pretty down at this point, but Congress was still Democratic.
The Clinton era begins. Blame Ross Perot, who ran as an independent and got 18.9% of the vote, mostly from Bush. I was a Jerry Brown delegate for the Democrats that year in the caucuses. Clinton’s win was big, winning 370 electoral votes to Bush’s 168. Perot won no electoral votes. Clinton won all the northeast states, most of the midwest, and California started its blue path that continues till today. The south mostly went to Bush, but because Clinton was from Arkansas, several southern states went blue. It seemed that the Democrats were back in control. But in 1994, Congress went Republican, and by 1996, Clinton was impeached (though not convicted by the Senate). Misogyny was the word of the day, and Monica Lewinsky became a household name. Interesting times.
It was Ross Perot again that won it for Clinton, as Perot garnered 8.4% of the vote as the Reform Party candidate (and founder). Here was another election called a landslide, though the popular vote was close (49.2-40.7%), and if Perot hadn’t run, Bob Dole could have won the popular vote. As it was, Clinton won handily with 379-159 electoral votes. The Pacific Coast, the northeast and midwest were still blue, but the parties had started to narrow their differences, culminating in many Republicans able to vote for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election (in 2016, I mean). Ralph Nader ran on the Green Party ticket, with the Greens making their first foray into presidential politics. I voted for the Green in this election, and every election since (and will on Tuesday). Nader picked up a whopping 0.71% of the vote, setting the stage for 2000.
This was close. So close that the results weren’t known (officially) until December, and the election was decided by the Supreme Court, which stopped a recount that most certainly would have put Al Gore ahead in Florida, which would have won the election for the Democrat over George W. Bush. This election was also only the 4th time in U.S. history that the electoral college winner was not the popular vote winner (the last time was 1888). Gore got 48.4% of the popular vote, Bush got 47.9%. Just a tad closer than the 1968 election (see above). Bush won the south and west, except the Pacific Coast states, which stayed blue (Oregon barely). Gore won the northeast and northern plains states. The official tally had Bush with 271 electoral votes, one more than needed to win, to Gore’s 266. I remember that the mainstream saw it as a win for the rule of law, something that is coming into play this year. Nader ran again for the Greens, and got 2.74% of vote, after a series of rallies reminiscent of the Sanders rallies of this campaign season, and is still blamed for losing the election for Gore. (This is the reason that Sanders had to run as a Democrat this cycle.) Pat Buchanan was notable in this election, running to the right of Bush with the Reform Party (the one started by Ross Perot), though he only ended up with 0.43% of the popular vote. Reports of corruption and fraud, mostly on the Republican side, were rampant in this election, perhaps most represented by the “hanging chads” on punch card ballots in Florida. Voting and election practices reform was enacted soon after, which eventually made the situation worse. Turnout was a tad over 51% (by the way, the turnout figures are a percentage of the voting age population; some of these couldn’t vote due to various reasons). Bush bumbled through his first year until 9/11/2001, when everything changed.
Another close one. This one was decided in Ohio, and to this day, many believe the election was stolen by electronic voting machines that were brought in with the election reforms instituted after the bungled 2000 election. Bush won the popular vote, 50.7-48.3%, and the electoral college vote, 286 to 251. The Pacific Coast and northeast stayed solid blue, joined by the northern plains states, but the rest of the country was red. (I should say that Alaska usually votes red and Hawaii blue. Don’t want to leave them out!) Turnout went up a little, due to the course of the so-called War on Terror, which was dragging on with no end in sight. Nader ran as an independent, after losing the Green Party nomination to David Cobb (the Greens weren’t touching Nader ever again), and got a measly 0.38% of the vote, but beat Cobb, who got 0.1%. Believe it or not, Leonard Peltier ran from prison on the Peace & Freedom Party ticket, and picked up more than 27,000 votes. People were trying to blame Nader again for John Kerry’s loss, but Nader was not a factor here, and not really in 2000 either.
Our first (half) black president, Barack Obama, was elected in an Electoral College landslide, though he beat John McCain by a more modest amount in the popular vote, about 53-46%. Obama did slightly better in the south, due to his skin color, winning Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. He also won the Pacific Coast states, the northeast and even the midwest, and picked up Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico in the west. Nader ran again as an independent, and did about as well as the previous election (0.56%). Third parties were not a significant factor in this election. Obama had us all entranced (though I voted for Cynthia McKinney, the Green, as usual). I remember that all my progressive friends were saying that the long night was over, and things would change to all things good and bright. But the Great Recession, which had started in Bush’s last year, continued well into Obama’s first term, and some say we’re still in it. Instead of getting us out of the Middle East, Obama has entrenched us there, and started the new Cold War with Russia, and so many other horrible things. Oh, well, he’s blue! And Michelle is awesome! Oh yeah, turnout was better (58%), and there was the distraction of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate… And the expected vote tampering, which may have happened, was not a factor in the race, because it wasn’t close enough.
Pretty much a rerun of 2008, this time with Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama won the popular vote 51-47% and the Electoral College vote 332-206. This election saw Gary Johnson’s first bid for president with the Libertarians, which he is repeating this year, and Jill Stein’s first bid for the Greens, which she is also repeating. My favorite candidate was Roseanne Barr, the actress and TV star, who was a progressive version of Donald Trump, and ran on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. It was a close race for me between her, Stein and Rocky Anderson, who ran on the Justice Party ticket. Anderson founded this party as a splinter from the Democrats, and had some good ideas. None of the third party candidates did well at all. The country was (and is) still stinging from the 2000 election.
Which brings us to this week’s election. I hope you can see that in context, the 2016 election is actually pretty typical, with the Democratic and Republican nominees relatively close, and some third party candidates fighting a losing battle to get in the media, and send out their message. As with many of the contests above, the issues being discussed are mostly how bad the other guy is, and the quality of major party candidates is despairingly low. Turnout may be slightly higher than normal this year, or maybe not, but like the quality of the red and blue candidates, it will be despairingly low.
If Trump loses, even if by a large margin in the Electoral College, it will not narrow the divide in the country that fed his candidacy. And if Clinton loses, it will not mean that we have rejected her because she is a woman. It’s like a Super Bowl, or the seventh game of the World Series – one team (or candidate) is going to win, either fair and square or by crook – and after the celebrations for the winner and the crying for the loser, we move on. In the meantime, we rest up and start building the team for the next regular season, hoping we can peak during the playoffs, and be the winning team next time.