Our next president could get less than half of popular vote - Albuquerque Journal

Our next president could get less than half of popular vote

Are you expecting some kind of respite from all the partisan rancor after Nov. 8? Don’t count on it.

Instead, it’s quite possible that after the Election Day dust settles and we know who our next president is going to be, more than 50 percent of Americans will be unhappy with the result.

Though it’s still very early, the polls have been signaling that the victor in this presidential race could win with a popular vote with a percentage in the low- to mid-40s.

Why? Because there are two minor party candidates who combined have been drawing popular support in the 9 percent to 15 percent range. And over time, their popularity has appeared to grow while the major party candidates remain in a relatively tight race when all four candidates are considered.

A CNN poll released Monday showed Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson with 9 percent and Green Party candidate Jill Stein with 5 percent overall. In the Midwest, Johnson alone came in at a whopping 15 percent.

In the same poll, Democrat Hillary Clinton, who was enjoying her post-convention bounce at the time the poll was taken, led with 45 percent and Republican Donald Trump had 37 percent. The CNN poll released on July 25, when Trump was riding his post convention wave, had Trump with 44 percent, Clinton with 39 percent, Johnson with 9 percent and Stein with 3 percent.

Here are the results from some other polls this week that included all four candidates:

Rasmussen Reports (Thursday) – Clinton, 44 percent; Trump 40 percent; Johnson, 6 percent; and Stein, 3 percent.

Economist/YouGov (Tuesday) – Clinton, 41 percent; Trump, 36 percent; Johnson, 8 percent; and Stein, 4 percent.

NBC News/SM (Tuesday) – Clinton, 42 percent; Trump, 38 percent; Johnson, 9 percent; and Stein 4 percent.

As I said earlier, it’s still very early to make any predictions in this most curious of campaigns. But even if the minor party candidates hold at just 10 percent on Nov. 8, the winner would have to beat the loser handily to get 50 percent or more of the vote and win with a majority.

Still, let’s say a candidate wins with just 42 percent of the popular vote. Is that the end of the world? No, although it might seem that way to the 58 percent who wanted someone else.

And the popular vote isn’t really what decides presidential elections, anyway, as Andrew Jackson (1824), Samuel Tilden (1876), Grover Cleveland (1888) and Al Gore (2000) could tell you. They all lost elections in which they won the popular vote.

Jackson even won the popular vote and the Electoral College vote in 1824 but still lost to John Quincy Adams in what Jackson termed a “corrupt bargain.” It was an interesting, complex election and the first one in which a popular vote was attempted.

If you look at the results of all past presidential elections, you’ll find that quite a few past presidents won with just a plurality. You can easily find the results all the way back to George Washington’s Electoral College victory in 1789 at uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS.

Here are some notable winners who received far from a majority of the vote: Woodrow Wilson, 1912, 41.8 percent; Richard Nixon, 1968, 43.4 percent; Bill Clinton, 1992, 43 percent.

But the president to ascend to office with the all-time lowest percentage was – drumroll, please – Abraham Lincoln, who won in 1860 with just 39.6 percent of the popular vote.

In 1864, Lincoln won re-election with 55 percent of the vote, but the South was not in on that election, of course.

Both Wilson and Clinton were also re-elected, but neither was able to crack that magic 50 percent mark.

In 1974, Nixon came back to win with one of the highest-ever margins: 60.67 percent of the popular vote.

Here are some other notable big-margin winners: Lyndon Johnson, 1964, 61 percent; Franklin Roosevelt, 1936, 60.8 percent; Warren Harding, 1920, 60.3 percent.

As you can see, winning by a huge margin doesn’t guarantee success in office. Or, as Johnson found out, a unified nation.

It’s sad that a mid-July, pre-conventions poll by the Pew Research Center found that about 40 percent of voters were having difficulty choosing between Clinton and Trump because respondents thought neither would make a good president and an AP-GfK Poll reported that 81 percent of respondents said they would feel afraid if either Clinton or Trump were elected.

But this country has either muddled or excelled through 44 presidents, and it’s likely to muddle through 45. What a messy way to get there.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor Dan Herrera at 823-3810 or dherrera@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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