The statistic that President Bush won more votes than any other President is being bandied about as proof that the President has a huge mandate for his agenda. Adam Yoshida, not-at-all-smug conservative triumphalist, makes the case like this:
Not only is the President the first candidate to win a majority of the vote in a Presidential Election since 1988, but he also won more popular votes than any other candidate in history.First of all, saying that something has not happened "since 1988," in Presidential election terms, is not all that big a deal. That's three elections. It's like saying "Bill Clinton never did it and neither did I!" Interesting, perhaps, but not something to put at the top of your resume.
As far as the "more popular votes" claim goes, well, duh. There are more people. The President Bush got more votes than, say, President Lincoln implies nothing about the quality of their leadership.
Let's have a look:
George W. Bush won, by latest count, 59,117,523 votes. That's a lot. If you had a nickel for every one of those votes you'd have a lot of nickels. It is, in fact, more votes than any other President has ever won. But President Bush received those votes from a country that has 25% more people than it did when Ronald Reagan set the previous record.
According to the US Census Bureau, which ought to know, the current U.S. population is 294.6 million. Certainly, it's more than the 235.4 million Americans there were in 1988, when Ronald Reagan won 54.4 million votes.
Bushes vote's represent 20% of the population. Doing the math the same way, President Reagan secured the votes of 23% of Americans.
This is a small thing, I know. But if they're going to claim that 51% of the vote constitutes a huge mandate based at least partially on the claim that President Bush got "more votes than ever cast before for a President," we might want to keep the scale of that mandate in perspective.
Republicans do the real numbers/percentage switch whenever it suits their spin. (Democrats, too! Also me, when I'm explaining to my clients how good a job I'm doing.) The current federal deficits, which are a record based on simple-old dollar figures, are dismissed as insignificant because they're a smaller percentage of GDP than previous deficits. (Under, interestingly, President Reagan.) Bush Buddies do the same for gas prices, which they say are not that high, once you adjust for inflation. I'd buy that, but it cost my wife $45 to fill up the minivan the other day, and $45 is a lot of money.
So, for the sake of consistency, they really ought to stop saying that President Bush won more popular votes than anyone else. In pure numbers, sure, but percentages count. And 51% is a majority, not a mandate.