Tough choices if Obama loses popular vote

2012-11-06 16:00
President Barack Obama greets supporters at a rally at the Jiffy Lube Live arena, in Bristow, Virginia. (J Scott Applewhite, AP)

President Barack Obama greets supporters at a rally at the Jiffy Lube Live arena, in Bristow, Virginia. (J Scott Applewhite, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

  • The Amateur
    A gripping read that reveals never before published details about the Obama administration's... Now R321.00
    buy now
Washington - An uncertain four years could await President Barack Obama if, under one possible outcome of Tuesday's election, he clings to power despite losing the popular vote to Republican Mitt Romney.

Never before in US history has a sitting president won a second term without winning the popular vote.

This year, it's within the realm of possibility. A very tight race seems to favour Obama in the handful of most competitive states that will decide the winner, even if growing Republican enthusiasm means more voters overall go for Romney.

If that happens, Obama would face mounting problems - stubbornly high unemployment, Mideast unrest, the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts in January - with little ability to claim Americans support his way forward, political analysts say.

"If there's any room in these results for Republicans to say the public doesn't support what he's doing, it would make an already toxic, incredibly difficult situation that much worse," Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer said.

Divided nation

Call it Al Gore's revenge. In the 2000 election, the vice president was denied the presidency despite winning more votes than President George W Bush.

Even after the Supreme Court settled the race, allegations of a "bloodless coup" deprived Bush of the clear mandate needed to unite a divided nation, until the 9/11 attacks united Americans against a terrorist threat.

A decade later, as a bitter election draws to a close, Americans are even more divided.

Four US presidents have assumed office despite losing the popular vote, including Bush and John Quincy Adams, who in 1824 lost both the popular and electoral vote but was handed the election by the House of Representatives.

All of those elections involved non-incumbents seeking their first term. For a sitting president to lose the popular vote and yet remain the world's most powerful leader would be uncharted territory, raising difficult questions about our electoral system.

Passionate Republicans

A look at the map makes it easy to see exactly how it could happen. Passions run high this year among Republicans, and turnout for Romney probably will be big - especially in Southern states that he's likely to win.

But last-minute polls show Obama clinging to a small advantage in a handful of battleground states like Ohio and Florida, which could enable him to block Romney's path to the requisite 270 electoral votes. Those votes are won state by state and decide the election.

"This is going to be a turnout election," Obama said on Monday in a radio interview. "We've got the votes to win Florida. It just depends on whether people turn out or not."

If Obama marches to 270 but loses the popular vote, he would face the unpleasant prospect of spending four years as a president with little power. "Republicans would have a pretty strong hand to play against him," said Craig Robinson, the Iowa Republicans' former political director.


No politician wants to be relegated to irrelevance. Unshackled from Democratic donors and with his last election behind him, a second-term Obama could manoeuvre sharply toward the centre, seeking compromise with Republicans on major issues as did his Democratic predecessor, former President Bill Clinton.

He might rethink his call for raising taxes on wealthier Americans to pay for deficit reduction, or pull back some environmental or business regulations in the interest of getting things done for the American people.

Such a move inevitably would anger the liberal base to which he owes his presidency, said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist. But Obama may not have a choice.

"If you're on the way out the door and you're a 'lame duck’, offending people doesn't matter anymore," Sheinkopf said.

What matters is salvaging your legacy.

Americans remember the big, sweeping acts that define a generation. Think Mars exploration, a major climate initiative or a war on cancer, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.

"President Obama will need to put his stamp on something large," Brinkley said. "Our country is dying for something that unites us."

It's election day in the US. Are you there? Capture the excitement on camera and share your pictures with us

- AP
Read more on:    barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us elections 2012

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

/Oscar Pistorius

6 life hacks you simply have to know

A few simple tricks can make your life so much easier!


For chic geeks...

Device lets disabled people talk through their nose
It’s THIS easy for someone to steal your ATM pin!
This is why you should install iOS 8
17 photo illusions that look so real

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now! - shop online today

Pre-order your iPhone 6 at

Hurry and pre-order your own iPhone 6 now at SA’s favourite online store!

Bargain box – 60% off

Reduced prices, very limited stock. While stocks last. Hurry and shop now!

Mind blow low prices on electronics

Get either the Prestigio multiphone or Proline tablet 7” tablet for only R699. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off Barbie toys

Save 30% on all Barbie toys and accessories. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Baby extravanganza month at

Celebrate baby month with a wide range of awesome baby products. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25


You may take extra pride in your work today. You have a need to shine and be respected so you may put the extra effort and more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.