1122: Electoral Precedent
Title text: No white guy who's been mentioned on twitter has gone on to win.
During election season (particularly in U.S. presidential elections, and especially in election night coverage), it is common for the media to make comments like the ones set out in the title of this comic. Randall is demonstrating the problem with making such statements, many of which simply come down to coincidence.
Each panel of this comic refers to one of the 56 presidential elections in U.S. history. The panels depict a pre-election commentator noting a quality or condition that has never occurred to a candidate, until one of the candidates in that election broke the streak. In other words, one can always find at least one unique thing about a candidate who has gone on to win (or in some cases, lose) or the circumstances under which they won (or lost) that is unique from all previous winners (or losers). As the years pass on, these 'streaks' become more and more nested and complicated, and then brought by Randall to the point of absurdity by pointing out very trivial things, such as "No Democratic incumbent without combat experience has ever beaten someone whose first name is worth more in Scrabble" (1996).
The flaw made by pundits while reporting such streaks is that there will always be something that has never happened before in an election, and they purport to suggest that these things are related to the candidate's win or loss. Randall considers this a logical flaw. A common one is, as noted in several panels, candidates can't win without winning certain states. The question, however, is one of cause or effect.
Given that there have only been 56 elections, there are always going to be things that haven't happened before. If you go out looking for them, you're sure to find some. There is no magic about why these events haven't happened. In most cases, it is merely coincidence.
The title-text refers to the fact that Twitter was founded in 2006. Obama won in 2008, so it is true that no white person mentioned on Twitter has ever gone on to win the presidency (although certainly some former presidents, all of whom were white, have subsequently been mentioned on twitter).
There was an error in the original 1800 panel of the comic, as Jefferson (not Adams) was the first challenger to beat an incumbent, when Jefferson beat then-president Adams in 1800. This was later corrected.
Also, one of the statements of a streak for the current (2012) elections can be considered wrong: in 1952, the Republican candidate/running mate Eisenhower/Nixon defeated the Democratic alliterative ticket Stevenson/Sparkman (in what can only be described as a landslide). Whether this is an error on Randall's part, or an implicit reflection of his political orientation either way (in the sense that the streak favoring Obama will be broken, or that the streak favoring Romney is already broken before the elections and therefore gives him no chance whatsoever), is unclear.
Update: it appears the latter was indeed most likely an error on Randall's part, since the comic has been changed and now reads "Democratic incumbents never beat taller challengers" as the streak which would have the Republican ticket as the winners. It should still be checked if this is indeed the case.
- The problem with statements like
- "No <party> candidate has won the election without <state>"
- "No president has been reelected under <circumstances>"
- 1788... No one has been elected president before. ...But Washington was.
- 1792... No incumbent has ever been reelected. ...Until Washington.
- 1796... No one without false teeth has become president. ...But Adams did.
- 1800... No challenger has beaten an incumbent. ...But Jefferson did.
- 1804... No incumbent has beaten a challenger. ...Until Jefferson.
- 1808... No congressman has ever become president. ...Until Madison.
- 1812... No one can win without New York. ...But Madison did.
- 1816... No candidate who doesn't wear a wig can get elected. ...Until Monroe was.
- 1820... No one who wears pants instead of breeches can be reelected. ...But Monroe was.
- 1824... No one has ever won without a popular majority. ...J.Q. Adams did.
- 1828... Only people from Massachusetts and Virginia can win. ...Until Jackson did.
- 1832... The only presidents who get reelected are Virginians. ...Until Jackson.
- 1836... New Yorkers always lose. ...Until Van Buren.
- 1840... No one over 65 has won the presidency. ...Until Harrison did.
- 1844... No one who's lost his home state has won. ...But Polk did.
- 1848... The Democrats don't lose when they win Pennsylvania. ...But they did in 1848.
- 1852... New England Democrats can't win. ...Until Pierce did.
- 1856... No one can become president without getting married. ...Until Buchanan did.
- 1860... No one over 6'3" can get elected. ...Until Lincoln.
- 1864... No one with a beard has been reelected. ...But Lincoln was.
- 1868... No one can be president if their parent are alive. ...Until Grant.
- 1872... No one with a beard has been reelected in peacetime. ...Until Grant was.
- 1876... No one can win a majority of the popular vote and still lose. ...Tilden did.
- 1880... As goes California, so goes the nation. ...Until it went Hancock.
- 1884... Candidates named "James" can't lose. ...Until James Blaine.
- 1888... No sitting president has been beaten since the Civil War. ...Cleveland was.
- 1892... No former president has been elected. ...Until Cleveland.
- 1896... Tall midwesterners are unbeatable. ...Bryan wasn't.
- 1900... No Republican shorter than 5'8" has been reelected. ...Until McKinley was.
- 1904... No one under 45 has become president. ...Roosevelt did.
- 1908... No Republican who hasn't served in the military has won. ...Until Taft.
- 1912... After Lincoln beat the Democrats while sporting a beard with no mustache, the only Democrats who can win have a mustache with no beard. ...Wilson had neither.
- 1916... No Democrat has won without Indiana. ...Wilson did.
- 1920... No incumbent senator has won. ...Until Harding.
- 1924... No one with two Cs in their name has become president. ...Until Calvin Coolidge.
- 1928... No one who got ten million votes has lost. ...Until Al Smith.
- 1932... No Democrat has won since women secured the right to vote. ...Until FDR did.
- 1936... No President's been reelected with double-digit unemployment. ...Until FDR was.
- 1940... No one has won a third term. ...Until FDR did.
- 1944... No Democrat has won during wartime. ...Until FDR did.
- 1948... Democrats can't win without Alabama. ...Truman did.
- 1952... No Republican has won without winning the House or Senate. ...Eisenhower did.
- 1956... No Republican has won without Missouri. ...Until Eisenhower.
- 1960... Republicans without facial hair are unbeatable. ...Kennedy beat Nixon.
- 1964... No Democrat has won without Georgia. ...Johnson did.
- 1968... No Republican vice president has risen to the Presidency through an election. ...Until Nixon.
- 1972... No wartime candidate has won without Massachusetts. ...Until Nixon did.
- 1976... No one who lost New Mexico has won. ...But Carter did.
- 1980... No one has been elected President after a divorce. ...Until Reagan was.
- 1984... No left-handed president has been reelected. ...Until Reagan was.
- 1988... No Democrat who has won Wisconsin (without being from there) has lost. ...Until Dukakis did.
- 1992... No Democrat has won without a majority of the Catholic vote. ...Until Clinton did.
- 1996... No Dem. incumbent without combat experience has beaten someone whose first name is worth more in Scrabble. ...Until Bill beat Bob.
- 2000... No Republican has won without Vermont. ...Until Bush did.
- 2004... No Republican without combat experience has beaten someone two inches taller. ...Until Bush did.
- 2008... No Democrat can win without Missouri. ...Until Obama did.
- 2012... Democratic incumbents never beat taller challengers. No nominee whose first name contains a "K" has lost. Which streak will break?