Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter February 9, 2013

The Presidential Election of 2012 by the Numbers and in Historical Perspective

Verlan Lewis and James W. Ceaser
From the journal The Forum


This essay explores the scope of President Obama’s re-election victory in 2012 by comparing it to previous presidential elections in American history. Three conclusions are drawn. First, Obama’s margin of victory in 2012 is modest by historical standards, though Obama did make history by becoming the first re-elected President to lose both Electoral College votes and popular vote share between his first and second election. Next, despite some claims that challenger Mitt Romney squandered an easy opportunity to win, the historical record of incumbents seeking a second term suggests that the advantage always lay with President Obama. Finally, the 2012 election marked a further step in a changing pattern of presidential elections in which national margins of victory tend to be much smaller, state landslides are more numerous, and swings from one party to another between consecutive presidential elections are minimized.

Corresponding author: Verlan Lewis, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Published Online: 2013-02-09

©2013 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston