Darren Richardson

Feb. 13, 2012

When all the votes were counted after the 2008 election, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama became the first African-American elected president of the United States. Almost everyone is aware of that important fact, but what isn’t so widely known is that Obama also set a new record for the highest number of popular votes received by any U.S. presidential candidate in a single election.

In garnering 69,456,897 million votes and shattering the record of 62,028,285 previously set by George W. Bush in 2004, Obama won 365 electoral votes. The number of electoral votes is fixed each election, and 270 of the 538 at stake are needed to win the presidency. But the popular vote determines how the electoral votes will be allocated, and the last two election cycles have seen dramatic upturns in voter participation. In 2008, more than 130 million voters cast ballots in the November General Election.

The Republican primary season, however, has seen less participation than the 2008 cycle, leading some observers to wonder if the upward trend in voter turnout will continue. According to CNN, Republicans may be “uninspired by their options,” despite seeming “united in their anger against the president.”

Enthusiasm for Obama among Democrats is somewhat harder to measure, since he is an incumbent president running unopposed in the nominating process. But a recent FOX News poll found that 41 percent of voters would be enthusiastic if Obama were re-elected, whereas only 28 percent would be enthusiastic if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were elected. The other Republican candidates fared worse with enthusiasm ratings in the low to mid-20s.

In 2004, voting among the Voting Age Population (VAP) in the United States reached 55.3 percent, the highest level since 60.8 percent voted in 1968. Voters across the United States cast a total of 122,294,978 presidential ballots in 2004, up nearly 17 million votes from the 105,586,274 cast in 2000. In 2008, the VAP rose to 56.8 percent and 132,618,580 voters cast their ballots.

Interestingly, the lowest voter turnout rate in the last 50 years was in 1996. Then-President Bill Clinton, a Democratic incumbent, faced a Republican candidate in Bob Dole who also had to deal with lackluster support among the Republican base.

But there is still a long time between now and Nov. 6, Election Day, and that means ample time for would-be voters to register and registered voters to become more interested in the contest between the president, the eventual nominee, likely Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and any other “third party” candidate who may catch voters’ attention. Several organizations across the nation are doing their part to ensure that everyone who wants to vote is in a position to do so come November; you can find links to their website in the “Resources” section below.

Finally, if you buy into the old cliché that “one vote doesn’t matter,” think again. There have been several powerful examples in recent years of just how much one vote matters, including the 2000 election between Bush and Democrat Al Gore. If just one voter in each of Florida’s 411 cities would have voted for Gore instead of Bush, that would have changed Bush’s 537-vote win into a 285-vote Gore victory. That would have meant a President Gore instead of President Bush, which, regardless of political opinions, most people would agree would have meant a different course of events for the U.S. and the world.

So yes, your vote matters.

If you like to write about U.S. politics and Campaign 2012, enter "The American Pundit" competition for a chance to win semi-monthly $250 prizes and earn eligibility for the $5,000 grand prize to be awarded after the November election.


Fox News Poll: Obama holds edge over Republicans in matchups, FOX News, Feb. 10, 2012

Why has GOP turnout taken a dive? CNN, Feb. 9, 2012

2008 General Election Turnout Rates, George Mason University

United States Election Project: Voter Turnout, George Mason University

FEC releases official popular vote count from 2008 presdiential election, Independent Political Report, Nov. 2008

Obama sets record for most votes ever received by U.S. presidential candidate, Allvoices, Nov. 7, 2008

National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections: 1960–2010, infoplease.com

President Bush wins historic victory: Record number of voters turnout across the nation including Montgomery County, Montgomery County (Texas) News, Nov. 10, 2004


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