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The Forum

A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics

Ed. by Disalvo, Daniel / Stonecash, Jeffrey

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Volume 10, Issue 4 (Feb 2013)


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

Verlan Lewis
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Politics, University of Virginia
  • Email:
/ James W. Ceaser
  • Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution
  • Email:
Published Online: 2013-02-09 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/forum-2013-0001


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.

About the article

Verlan Lewis

Verlan Lewis is a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia.

James W. Ceaser

James W. Ceaser is Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the author of, among others, Nature and History in American Political Development (Harvard University Press, 2006), and After Hope and Change: The 2012 Election and American Politics, with Andrew Busch and Jack Pitney (forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield).

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

Published Online: 2013-02-09

Citation Information: The Forum, ISSN (Online) 1540-8884, ISSN (Print) 2194-6183, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/forum-2013-0001. Export Citation

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