Are Presidential Candidates from Large States at an advantage?

President Obama has a few historical advantages on his side in the upcoming presidential election. Very few incumbent Presidents have lost their bids for reelection. And it’s an even rarer for an incumbent President to lose after his party has held the White House for only one term. Something else that translates to electoral victory is that Obama is from a bigger state than Mitt Romney. Illinois has a respectable 21 Electoral votes, the fifth most populous state in the Union. And Presidential candidates from larger states to have a tendency to win.

1960 seems to be a good time to start, since Eisenhower wasn’t really associated with any one state to the degree that a Governor, Senator or former Congressman would be. Since then, the candidate from a big state has won nine times: Texan (25 electoral votes) LBJ  trounced Arizonan (5 electoral votes) Barry Goldwater in 1964. Californian (40-45 Electoral votes) Richard Nixon overcame Minnesotan (10 electoral votes) Herbert Humphrey in 1968 and South Dakotan (4 electoral votes) George McGovern in 1972. Californian (45-47 electoral votes) Ronald Reagan clobbered Georgian (12 electoral votes) Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Minnesotan (still 10 electoral votes) Walter Mondale  in 1984, while his Texan (29 electoral votes) Veep George HW Bush beat Bay Stater (13 electoral votes) Michael Dukakis in 1988. Texan (upgraded to 32 and 34 electoral votes) George W Bush beat Tennessean (11 electoral votes) Al Gore in 2000 and Bay Stater (down to 12 electoral votes) John Kerry in 2004. Illinoisan (21 electoral votes) Barack Obama annihilated Arizonan (10 electoral votes) John McCain in 2008.

The candidate from a smaller state was three times less likely to win an election against a politician from a more populated state. And twice those were really narrow wins. Bay Stater (16 electoral votes) JFK beat Richard Nixon (32 electoral votes) in 1960 with a 0.2% advantage in the popular vote, while Georgian (12 Electoral votes) Jimmy Carter barely beat Michigander (21 electoral votes) Gerald Ford in 1976. Arkansan Bill Clinton (6 electoral votes) beat Texan (32 electoral votes) George HW Bush in 1992, an unusual three-way election, in which a Texan deficit hawk got 18.9% of the popular vote. Two of these exceptions also involved incumbent Presidents who had never been elected to statewide office. The 1996 Presidential election is a wash, as it included two candidates from small states, with a combined electoral college vote of 12.

I’m not sure these results mean anything. It could be a coincidence, the result of random quirks like the Washington Nationals predicting 18 of the last 19 elections based on whether they win the last home game before the election. It could also be a result of the recent decades of Republican domination of the White House, as the party has a tendency to nominate Texans and Californians. It could also be that it requires greater political skill to be elected into office in a bigger state, due to the increased competition.

Though I don’t think we should interpret the results as suggesting that Rick Perry would have been a better candidate than Mitt Romney. Or that Blagojavich would have done just as well as Obama.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
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