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Democrats Face Historic Voter Hurdle

Analysis By Scott Rasmussen

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Much has been made this year about how the fundamentals favor the Democrats. An unpopular Republican president, a war that has dragged on beyond the limits of public tolerance, a declining number of people identifying as Republicans and a worrisome economy all set the stage for the Democrats to reclaim the White House.

While citing these factors, Rasmussen Reports and many others have not often pointed out another fundamental—the difficulty Democrats have in attracting a majority of the popular vote.

Since 1860, the year that Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican president, only three Democrats have won the White House with a majority of the popular vote. Each of the three—Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter—were aided by extraordinary circumstances.

Roosevelt was elected during the depths of the Great Depression. Johnson was elected less than a year after he assumed the presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Carter was elected in the immediate aftermath of Watergate, a time that makes even the current challenges faced by the Republican Party seem tame by comparison.

For a while, it appeared to many that Barack Obama might be able to expand the traditional limits of Democratic appeal and break through the 50% ceiling. But despite all the polling done by Rasmussen Reports and others this season, he has not yet broken through that barrier.

Still, for much of the year, it seemed like a Democrat winning 49% or 50% of the vote should be able to capture the White House. After all, the GOP was fragmented and less than thrilled with their nominee. So, if a Ron Paul or a Bob Barr picked up two or three percent of the vote, many expected that McCain would be doomed.

Now, with the addition of Alaska's conservative governor, Sarah Palin, to the ticket, McCain has succeeded in uniting his party and ramping up its enthusiasm. In fact, it now seems that Hillary Clinton, an unsuccessful contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, might drain a point or so of support from Obama. That appears to be as likely as Libertarian Party candidate Barr grabbing a few votes from McCain.

If the Democrats have an historic ceiling around 50% and the GOP is united, those fundamentals suggest a toss-up, and that’s what we have in the country today. The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll shows McCain and Obama in a very competitive race heading into the debate phase of the campaign.

If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Sign up for a free Rasmussen Reports daily e-mail update and we’ll let you know what voters really think.

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