According to the totals so far, Barack Obama won the election by something more than 8.4 million votes. But Mike Sheppard says the margin that really matters was only 445,912. Sheppard, you may recall from a previous post, is a grad student in statistics at Michigan State who became interested in the interplay between the popular and electoral vote in history, and calculated how many votes it would have taken in each race to change the outcome. Sheppard has refrained from telling me what his own political leanings are; his interest is in how well (or not) the electoral process works. He showed that more than half our presidential elections since 1824 could have come out differently if fewer than two percent of voters — the right two percent — had voted differently and swung the electoral college totals to the losers. In 1976, for instance, Gerald Ford could have beaten Jimmy Carter if Ohio and Hawaii had gone his way — and it would only have taken 9,246 voters to make the difference. David Chalian, our political director, has supplied the total popular votes for 2008 as of today: Obama: 66,624,447 McCain: 58,182,368 Take a look at Sheppard’s analysis HERE. It was not a close election by his standards; John McCain needed at least seven more states to win the electoral vote. But the most efficient way, mathematically, for that to have happened would only have taken 444,121 popular votes (out of 126 million cast), since North Carolina, Indiana, New Hampshire, etc., were so close. In other words, Mr. McCain could have become president by winning in the electoral college, 270-268 — though still losing by 7.6 million votes.