Recently Mitt Romney said: “I need to get 50.1 percent or more” to win.
No, he doesn’t. What he means of course is that he needs just one vote more than 50%, which is not at all the same thing since 50.1% can translate to a winning margin of 200,000 votes in a presidential election.
But even that is not true since in the US system one can win the presidency even though one gets a lower national vote total than one’s opponent. This has happened, with George W. Bush’s win in 2000 being the latest example, in which he got half a million votes less than Al Gore. What one needs to get are 270 electoral college votes.
Romney is not alone is saying things like this. Of course, Romney and the political commentators who use the “50.1%” phrase know that what they are saying is technically wrong. (At least I hope so, or the level of innumeracy is worse than I thought.) “50.1%” has simply become shorthand for the smallest of majorities.
But I still don’t like it because it is flatly wrong. Why don’t candidates simply say that they need a majority or, if they want to emphasize that even the smallest majority is good enough, say “50% plus one vote” or ‘bare majority’?