Flunking history: Matalin exaggerated Bush victory, state of economy


On the November 14 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Republican political strategist Mary Matalin exaggerated both the margin of President George W. Bush's reelection victory and the state of the economy in historic terms. Matalin falsely claimed that Bush "increased his margin in a greater proportion than anyone has done in many, many decades," and that today's U.S. economy is "a great economy, better than it was even in the Clinton years."

In 2000, Bush won 47.9 percent of the popular vote, compared with 48.4 percent for then-Vice President Al Gore. In the 2004 election, Bush won 51.0 percent of the popular vote compared to 48.1 percent for Senator John Kerry. Bush increased his proportional margin of victory by 3.4 percent, from negative 0.5 percent to 2.9 percent.

Here is a list of the incumbent presidents in the 20th century who increased their proportional margin of victory by a greater percentage than George W. Bush:

  • Ronald Reagan won by 9.8 percent in 1980 and by 18.3 percent in 1984, increasing his proportional margin of victory by 8.5 percent.
  • Richard Nixon won by 1.1 percent in 1968 and by 23.0 percent in 1972, increasing his margin of victory by 21.9 percent.
  • Dwight Eisenhower won by 10.5 percent in 1952 and by 16.0 percent in 1956, increasing his margin of victory by 5.5 percent.
  • Franklin Roosevelt won by 17.4 percent in 1932 and by 23.8 percent in 1936, increasing his margin of victory by 6.4 percent.

Former President Bill Clinton's margin of victory was only 2.9 percent greater in 1996 than in 1992. But Clinton's margin of victory in 1996, 8.5 percent, was 5.6 percent greater than Bush's reelection victory margin of 2.9 percent in 2004. Los Angeles Times columnist Ronald Brownstein noted in a November 15 article that Bush's 2.9 percent victory in 2004 was "the smallest margin of victory for a reelected president since 1828," and besides Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and Harry Truman in 1948, "every other president elected to a second term since 1832 has at least doubled the margin that Bush had over Kerry."

As for Matalin's claim that the current economy is "better than it was even in the Clinton years," the major economic indicators suggest otherwise. The following indicators show that economy grew increasingly stronger during the Clinton administration (1993-2000) followed by a reverse trend in the first three years of the Bush administration (2001-2003). The current economy is still below that of 2000, the end of Clinton's second term:

YEAR Median family income
(as of March of the following year, in 2003 dollars, according to the U.S. Census Bureau)
Payroll employment
(as of September of each year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor; to access link, click "total private" and "retrieve data")
Unemployment rate
(as of September of each year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor)
Annual percentage change in Gross Domestic Product
(according to the U.S. Department of Commerce)
2004 N/A 110,007,000 5.4% 3.8*
2003 $43,318 108,317,000 6.1 3.0
2002 43,381 108,680,000 5.6 1.9
2001 43,882 110,302,000 4.9 0.8
2000 44,853 111,349,000 3.9 3.7
1999 44,922 109,121,000 4.2 4.5
1998 43,825 106,558,000 4.6 4.2
1997 42,294 103,738,000 4.9 4.5
1996 41,431 100,729,000 5.2 3.7
1995 40,845 98,347,000 5.6 2.5
1994 39,613 95,818,000 5.9 4.0
1993 39,165 92,318,000 N/A 2.7

*2004 GDP figure excludes fourth quarter (data not yet available)

Posted In
Economy, Jobs, Wages, & Unemployment
2004 Elections
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