2004 United States presidential election
538 members of the Electoral College
270 electoral votes needed to win
|Turnout||56.7% 5.5 pp|
2004 U.S. presidential election
The 2004 United States presidential election was the 55th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 2, 2004. The Republican ticket of incumbent President George W. Bush and his running mate Vice President Dick Cheney were elected to a second term, defeating the Democratic ticket of John Kerry, a United States Senator from Massachusetts and his running mate John Edwards, a United States Senator from North Carolina. At the time Bush's popular vote total was the most votes ever received by a presidential candidate, a total that has since been surpassed six times by four candidates in following elections. Bush also became the only incumbent president to win re-election after losing the popular vote in the previous election.
Bush and Cheney were renominated by their party with no difficulty. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean emerged as the early front-runner in the 2004 Democratic primaries, but Kerry won the first set of primaries in January and clinched his party's nomination in March after a series of primary victories. Kerry chose Edwards, who had himself sought the party's 2004 presidential nomination, to be his running mate.
Bush's popularity had soared early in his first term after the September 11, 2001 attacks, but his popularity declined between 2001 and 2004. Foreign policy was the dominant theme throughout the election campaign, particularly Bush's conduct of the War on Terrorism and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Bush presented himself as a decisive leader and attacked Kerry as a "flip-flopper", while Kerry criticized Bush's conduct of the Iraq War. Domestic issues were debated as well, including the economy and jobs, health care, abortion, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research.
Bush won by a narrow margin of 35 electoral votes and took 50.7% of the popular vote. He swept the South and the Mountain States and took the crucial swing states of Ohio, Iowa, and New Mexico, the latter two being flipped Republican. Although Kerry flipped New Hampshire, Bush's electoral map expanded numerically. Some aspects of the election process were subject to controversy, but not to the degree seen in the 2000 presidential election. Bush won Florida by a solid five-point margin, unlike his razor-thin 2000 victory margin in the state that led to a legal challenge in Bush v. Gore.
Bush was the first candidate since his father in the 1988 election to win over 50% of the popular vote, and is the most recent Republican candidate to have done so. Bush's victory also marked the first and only time that the nominee of a major party won a presidential election without winning any electoral votes from the Northeast. It also marks the final time to date that a Republican presidential nominee has won the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Virginia. Bush served until 2009 and was succeeded by Democrat Barack Obama, whereas Kerry continued to serve in the Senate and later became Secretary of State during Obama's second term. As of 2021, this is the most recent presidential election where an incumbent president increased their electoral vote count from their previous election. This also remains the most recent election when the Republican candidate would be re-elected as President of the United States and the last time a Republican won the popular vote. This is also the most recent election where the winning candidate did not receive at least 300 electoral votes.
George W. Bush won the presidency in 2000 after the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore remanded the case to the Florida Supreme Court, which declared there was not sufficient time to hold a recount without violating the U.S. Constitution.
Just eight months into his presidency, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, suddenly transformed Bush into a wartime president. Bush's approval ratings surged to near 90%. Within a month, the forces of a coalition led by the United States entered Afghanistan, which had been sheltering Osama bin Laden, suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks. By December, the Taliban had been removed, although a long and ongoing reconstruction would follow.
The Bush administration then turned its attention to Iraq, and argued the need to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq had become urgent. The Iraq issue gave Bush an antagonist to present to the people, (similar but different than that of 2001) rallying support against a common enemy rather than gaining voters through ideas or policy. Among the stated reasons were that Saddam's regime had tried to acquire nuclear material and had not properly accounted for biological and chemical material it was known to have previously possessed. Both the possession of these weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and the failure to account for them, would violate the UN sanctions. The assertion about WMD was hotly advanced by the Bush administration from the beginning, but other major powers including China, France, Germany, and Russia remained unconvinced that Iraq was a threat and refused to allow passage of a UN Security Council resolution to authorize the use of force. Iraq permitted UN weapon inspectors in November 2002, who were continuing their work to assess the WMD claim when the Bush administration decided to proceed with war without UN authorization and told the inspectors to leave the country. The United States invaded Iraq on March 20, 2003, along with a "coalition of the willing" that consisted of additional troops from the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent, from Australia and Poland. Within about three weeks, the invasion caused the collapse of both the Iraqi government and its armed forces. However, the U.S. and allied forces failed to find any weapon of mass destruction in Iraq. Nevertheless, on May 1, George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, in a Lockheed S-3 Viking, where he gave a speech announcing the end of "major combat operations" in the Iraq War. Bush's approval rating in May was at 66%, according to a CNN–USA Today–Gallup poll. However, Bush's high approval ratings did not last. First, while the war itself was popular in the U.S., the reconstruction and attempted "democratization" of Iraq lost some support as months passed and casualty figures increased, with no decrease in violence nor progress toward stability or reconstruction. Second, as investigators combed through the country, they failed to find the predicted WMD stockpiles, which led to debate over the rationale for the war.
|George W. Bush||Dick Cheney|
|for President||for Vice President|
President of the United States
Vice President of the United States
Bush's popularity rose as a wartime president, and he was able to ward off any serious challenge to the Republican nomination. Senator Lincoln Chafee from Rhode Island considered challenging Bush on an anti-war platform in New Hampshire, but decided not to run after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003.
On March 10, 2004, Bush officially clinched the number of delegates needed to be nominated at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. He accepted the nomination on September 2, 2004, and retained Vice President Dick Cheney as his running mate. During the convention and throughout the campaign, Bush focused on two themes: defending America against terrorism and building an ownership society. Bush used populist ideals in an attempt to rally citizens behind him in a time of international terror. The ownership society included allowing people to invest some of their Social Security in the stock market, increasing home and stock ownership, and encouraging more people to buy their own health insurance.
Democratic Party nomination
|John Kerry||John Edwards|
|for President||for Vice President|
from North Carolina
|Candidates in this section are sorted by popular vote from the primaries|
|John Edwards||Howard Dean||Dennis Kucinich||Wesley Clark||Al Sharpton||Joe Lieberman||Carol Moseley
| U.S. Senator from
Governor of Vermont
|U.S. Representative from Ohio
|Minister and Activist||U.S. Senator
|House Minority Leader|
|W: March 2
|W: Feb 18
|W: July 22
|W: Feb 11
|W: March 15
|W: Feb 3
|W: Jan 15
|W: Jan 20|
Before the primaries
By summer 2003, Howard Dean had become the apparent front-runner for the Democratic nomination, performing strongly in most polls and leading the pack with the largest campaign war chest. His strength as a fund raiser was attributed mainly to his embrace of the Internet for campaigning. The majority of his donations came from individual supporters, who became known as Deanites, or, more commonly, Deaniacs. Generally regarded as a pragmatic centrist during his governorship, Dean emerged during his presidential campaign as a left-wing populist, denouncing the policies of the Bush administration (especially the invasion of Iraq) as well as fellow Democrats, who, in his view, failed to strongly oppose them. Senator Joe Lieberman, a liberal on domestic issues but a hawk on the War on Terror, began his candidacy in early 2003 but failed to gain traction with liberal Democratic primary voters.
In September 2003, retired four-star general Wesley Clark announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination. His campaign focused on themes of leadership and patriotism; early campaign advertisements relied heavily on biography. His late start left him with relatively few detailed policy proposals. This weakness was apparent in his first few debates, although he soon presented a range of position papers, including a major tax-relief plan. Nevertheless, the Democrats did not flock to support his campaign.
In sheer numbers, John Kerry had fewer endorsements than Dean, who was far ahead in the superdelegate race going into the Iowa caucuses in January 2004. However, Kerry led the endorsement races in Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Nevada. His main perceived weakness was in his neighboring state of New Hampshire and nearly all national polls. Most other states did not have updated polling numbers to give an accurate placing for Kerry's campaign before Iowa. Heading into the primaries, Kerry's campaign was largely seen as being in trouble, particularly after he fired campaign manager Jim Jordan. The key factors enabling it to survive were when fellow Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy assigned Mary Beth Cahill to be the new campaign manager, as well as Kerry's mortgaging his home to lend the money to his campaign (while his wife was a billionaire, campaign finance rules prohibited using one's personal fortune). He also brought on the "magical" Michael Whouley who would be credited with helping bring home the Iowa victory the same as he did in New Hampshire for Al Gore in 2000 against Bill Bradley.
By the January 2004 Iowa caucuses, the field had dwindled down to nine candidates, as Bob Graham had dropped out of the race. Howard Dean was a strong front-runner. However, the Iowa caucuses yielded unexpectedly strong results for Democratic candidates Kerry, who earned 38% of the state's delegates, and John Edwards, who took 32%. Dean slipped to 18% and into third place, while Richard Gephardt finished fourth (11%). In the days leading up to the Iowa vote, there was much negative campaigning between the Dean and Gephardt candidacies.
The dismal results caused Gephardt to drop out and later endorse Kerry. Carol Moseley Braun also dropped out, endorsing Howard Dean. Besides the impact of coming in third, Dean was further hurt by a speech that he gave while at a post-caucus rally. He was shouting over the cheers of his enthusiastic audience, but the crowd noise was being filtered out by his unidirectional microphone, leaving only his full-throated exhortations audible to the television viewers. To those at home, he seemed to raise his voice out of sheer emotion. The incessant replaying of the "Dean Scream" by the press became a debate on whether Dean was victimized by media bias. The scream scene was shown approximately 633 times by cable and broadcast news networks in just four days after the incident, an amount not including talk shows and local news broadcasts. However, those in the actual audience that day have insisted that they didn't know about the infamous "scream" until they returned to their hotel rooms and saw it on television.
Kerry had revived his campaign and began using the slogan "Comeback Kerry".
New Hampshire primary
On January 27, Kerry triumphed again, winning the New Hampshire primary. Dean finished second, Clark came in third, and Edwards placed fourth. The largest of the debates was held at Saint Anselm College, where both Kerry and Dean had strong performances.
South Carolina primary
The following week, Edwards won the South Carolina primary and brought home a strong second-place finish in Oklahoma to Clark. Lieberman dropped out of the campaign the following day. Kerry dominated throughout February and his support quickly snowballed as he won caucuses and primaries, taking in wins in Michigan, Washington, Maine, Tennessee; Washington, D.C.; Nevada, Wisconsin, Utah, Hawaii, and Idaho. Clark and Dean dropped out during this time, leaving Edwards as the only real threat to Kerry. Kucinich and Sharpton continued to run despite poor results at the polls.
In March's Super Tuesday, Kerry won decisive victories in the California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island primaries as well as in the Minnesota caucuses. Despite having withdrawn from the race two weeks earlier, Dean won his home state of Vermont. Edwards finished only slightly behind Kerry in Georgia, but after failing to win a single state other than South Carolina, he chose to withdraw from the presidential race. Sharpton followed suit a couple weeks later. Kucinich did not leave the race officially until July.
Democratic National Convention
On July 6, Kerry selected Edwards as his running mate, shortly before the 2004 Democratic National Convention was held later that month in Boston. Days before Kerry announced Edwards as his running mate, Kerry gave a short list of three candidates: Sen. John Edwards, Rep. Dick Gephardt, and Gov. Tom Vilsack. Heading into the convention, the Kerry/Edwards ticket unveiled its new slogan: a promise to make America "stronger at home and more respected in the world." Kerry made his Vietnam War experience the convention's prominent theme. In accepting the nomination, he began his speech with, "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty." He later delivered what may have been the speech's most memorable line when he said, "the future doesn't belong to fear, it belongs to freedom", a quote that later appeared in a Kerry/Edwards television advertisement.
The keynote address at the convention was delivered by Illinois State Senator (and future president) Barack Obama; the speech was well received, and it elevated Obama's status within the Democratic Party.
There were four other presidential tickets on the ballot in a number of states totaling enough electoral votes to have a theoretical possibility of winning a majority in the Electoral College. They were:
- Michael Badnarik / Richard Campagna, Libertarian Party (campaign). Badnarik was nominated on the third ballot and Campagna on the first ballot at the Libertarian National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, held May 28–31, 2004.
- David Cobb / Pat LaMarche, Green Party (campaign). Cobb was nominated on the second ballot at the 2004 Green National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, held June 23–28, 2004.
- Ralph Nader / Peter Camejo, independent (also Reform Party, Independent Party (DE), Populist Party (MD), Better Life Party, Cross-endorsements N.Y., Peace and Justice Party, Independence Parties of New York and South Carolina, and the Vermont Green Party who chose not to ratify the national party's presidential nominee).
- Michael Peroutka / Chuck Baldwin, Constitution Party (also Alaskan Independence Party). Peroutka and Baldwin were unanimously nominated at the Constitution Party National Convention at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (June 23–26, 2004).
General election campaign
Bush focused his campaign on national security, presenting himself as a decisive leader and contrasted Kerry as a "flip-flopper." This strategy was designed to convey to American voters the idea that Bush could be trusted to be tough on terrorism while Kerry would be "uncertain in the face of danger." Bush (just as his father did with Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election) also sought to portray Kerry as a "Massachusetts liberal", who was out of touch with mainstream Americans. One of Kerry's slogans was "Stronger at home, respected in the world." This advanced the suggestion that Kerry would pay more attention to domestic concerns; it also encapsulated Kerry's contention that Bush had alienated American allies by his foreign policy.
According to one exit poll, people who voted for Bush cited the issues of terrorism and traditional values as the most important factors in their decision. Kerry supporters cited the war in Iraq, the economy and jobs, and health care.
Over the course of Bush's first term in office, his extremely high approval ratings immediately following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks steadily dwindled, rising only during combat operations in Iraq in spring 2003, and again following the capture of Saddam Hussein in December that same year.
Between August and September 2004, there was an intense focus on events that occurred in the late-1960s and early-1970s. Bush was accused of failing to fulfill his required service in the Texas Air National Guard. However, the focus quickly shifted to the conduct of CBS News after they aired a segment on 60 Minutes Wednesday, introducing what became known as the Killian documents. Serious doubts about the documents' authenticity quickly emerged, leading CBS to appoint a review panel that eventually resulted in the firing of the news producer and other significant staffing changes.
Meanwhile, Kerry was accused by the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, who averred that "phony war crimes charges, his exaggerated claims about his own service in Vietnam, and his deliberate misrepresentation of the nature and effectiveness of Swift boat operations compels us to step forward." The group challenged the legitimacy of each of the combat medals awarded to Kerry by the U.S. Navy, and the disposition of his discharge.
In the beginning of September, the successful Republican National Convention along with the allegations by Kerry's former mates gave Bush his first comfortable margin since Kerry had won the nomination. A post-convention Gallup poll showed the President leading the Senator by 14 points.
Three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate were organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and held in the autumn of 2004. As expected, these debates set the agenda for the final leg of the political contest. Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik and Green Party candidate David Cobb were arrested while trying to access the debates. Badnarik was attempting to serve papers to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
|P1||Thursday, September 30, 2004||University of Miami||Coral Gables, Florida||Jim Lehrer||President George W. Bush||62.4|
|VP||Tuesday, October 5, 2004||Case Western Reserve University||Cleveland, Ohio||Gwen Ifill||Vice President Dick Cheney||43.5|
|P2||Friday, October 8, 2004||Washington University in St. Louis||St. Louis, Missouri||Charles Gibson||President George W. Bush||46.7|
|P3||Wednesday, October 13, 2004||Arizona State University||Tempe, Arizona||Bob Schieffer||President George W. Bush||51.1|
- The first debate was held on September 30, slated to focus on foreign policy, Kerry accused Bush of having failed to gain international support for the invasion of Iraq, saying the only countries assisting the U.S. during the invasion were the United Kingdom and Australia. Bush replied to this by saying, "Well, actually, he forgot Poland." Later, a consensus formed among mainstream pollsters and pundits that Kerry won the debate decisively, strengthening what had come to be seen as a weak and troubled campaign. In the days after, coverage focused on Bush's apparent annoyance with Kerry and numerous scowls and negative facial expressions.
- On October 5, the vice presidential debate between Cheney and Edwards. An initial poll by ABC indicated a victory for Cheney, while polls by CNN and MSNBC gave it to Edwards.
- The second presidential debate was conducted in a town meeting format, less formal than the first presidential debate, this debate saw Bush and Kerry taking questions on a variety of subjects from a local audience. Bush attempted to deflect criticism of what was described as his scowling demeanor during the first debate, joking at one point about one of Kerry's remarks, "That answer made me want to scowl."
- Bush and Kerry met for the third and final debate on October 13. 51 million viewers watched the debate. After Kerry, responding to a question about gay rights, reminded the audience that Vice President Cheney's daughter was a lesbian, Cheney responded with a statement calling himself "a pretty angry father" due to Kerry using Cheney's daughter's sexual orientation for his political purposes. Polls taken by Gallup in found that Kerry pulled ahead in October, but showed a tight race as the election drew to a close.
Osama bin Laden videotape
On October 29, four days before the election, excerpts of a video of Osama bin Laden addressing the American people were broadcast on al Jazeera. In his remarks, bin Laden mentions the September 11, 2001 attacks and taunted Bush over his response to them. In the days following the video's release, Bush's lead over Kerry increased by several points.
Notable expressions and phrases
- Bring it on: Kerry used this to make the point that he was not afraid of attacks by the George W. Bush campaign. This phrase had previously been used by Bush in the summer of 2003, warning insurgents that the United States would not be intimidated to leave Iraq until after the country had been stabilized.
- Flip-flop: although the term existed prior to the elections, Republicans used it to describe John Kerry after he said "I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it."
- Joementum: used in the primaries by Joe Lieberman to say that he had momentum. It was later used to ridicule Lieberman, since his campaign did not pick up momentum and he dropped out of the race (not to be confused with the 2020 Democratic Primary, in which Joe Biden gained momentum after the South Carolina Primary).
- Swiftboating: a term used during the campaign to describe the work of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The term has been used since the campaign to describe a harsh attack by a political opponent that is dishonest, personal and unfair.
- You forgot Poland: paraphrased from Bush's comment in the first debate when he said "Well, actually, he forgot Poland." Used to emphasize that the coalition against Iraq was not as big as the list suggested because most of the participating countries sent a small number of troops.
Source (Electoral and Popular Vote): Federal Elections Commission Electoral and Popular Vote Summary Voting age population: 215,664,000
Percent of voting age population casting a vote for president: 56.70%
(a) One faithless elector from Minnesota cast an electoral vote for John Edwards (written as John Ewards) for president.
(b) Because Arrin Hawkins, then aged 28, was constitutionally ineligible to serve as vice president, Margaret Trowe replaced her on the ballot in some states. James Harris replaced Calero on certain other states' ballots.
Results by state
The following table records the official vote tallies for each state as reported by the official Federal Election Commission report. The column labeled "Margin" shows Bush's margin of victory over Kerry (the margin is negative for states and districts won by Kerry).
|States/districts won by Kerry/Edwards|
|States/districts won by Bush/Cheney|
|†||At-large results (for states that split electoral votes)|
|George W. Bush
Independent / Reform
|District of Columbia||3||21,256||9.34%||–||202,970||89.18%||3||1,485||0.65%||–||502||0.22%||–||0||0.00%||–||737||0.32%||–||636||0.28%||–||−181,714||−79.84%||227,586||DC|
Although Guam has no votes in the Electoral College, they have held a straw poll for their presidential preferences since 1980. In 2004, the results were Bush 21,490 (64.1%), Kerry 11,781 (35.1%), Nader 196 (0.58%) and Badnarik 67 (0.2%).
Maine and Nebraska each allowed for their electoral votes to be split between candidates. In both states, two electoral votes were awarded to the winner of the statewide race and one electoral vote was awarded to the winner of each congressional district. 
Red font color denotes those won by Republican President George W. Bush; blue denotes states won by Democrat John Kerry.
States where margin of victory was under 1% (22 electoral votes):
- Wisconsin 0.38%
- Iowa 0.67%
- New Mexico 0.79%
States where margin of victory was more than 1% but less than 5% (93 electoral votes):
- New Hampshire 1.37%
- Ohio 2.11% (tipping point state)
- Pennsylvania 2.50%
- Nevada 2.59%
- Michigan 3.42%
- Minnesota 3.48%
- Oregon 4.16%
- Colorado 4.67%
States where margin of victory was more than 5% but less than 10% (149 electoral votes):
- Florida 5.01%
- Maine's 2nd Congressional District 5.82%
- New Jersey 6.68%
- Washington 7.18%
- Missouri 7.20%
- Delaware 7.59%
- Virginia 8.20%
- Hawaii 8.74%
- Maine 9.00%
- Arkansas 9.76%
- California 9.95%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Republican)
- Ochiltree County, Texas 91.97%
- Madison County, Idaho 91.89%
- Glasscock County, Texas 91.56%
- Roberts County, Texas 90.93%
- Arthur County, Nebraska 90.23%
Counties with Highest Percent of Vote (Democratic)
- Washington, D.C. 89.18%
- Shannon County, South Dakota 84.62%
- City and County of San Francisco, California 83.02%
- Macon County, Alabama 82.92%
- Bronx County, New York 82.80%
Notes on results
Bush received 62,040,610 popular votes compared to Kerry's 59,028,444.
Because of a request by Ralph Nader, New York held a recount. In New York, Bush obtained 2,806,993 votes on the Republican ticket and 155,574 on the Conservative Party ticket. Kerry obtained 4,180,755 votes on the Democratic ticket and 133,525 votes on the Working Families ticket. Nader obtained 84,247 votes on the Independence ticket, and 15,626 votes on the Peace and Justice ticket.
Note also: Official Federal Election Commission Report, with the latest, most final, and complete vote totals available.
- George W. Bush (R) $367,227,801 / 62,040,610 = $5.92
- John Kerry (D) $326,236,288 / 59,028,444 = $5.53
- Ralph Nader (I) $4,566,037 / 465,151 = $9.82
- Michael Badnarik (L) $1,093,013 / 397,265 = $2.75
- Michael Peroutka (C) $729,087 / 143,630 = $5.08
- David Cobb (G) $493,723 / 119,859 = $4.12
- Walt Brown (SPUSA) $2,060 / 10,837 = $0.19
- (money spent/total votes=average spent per vote)
2004 United States Electoral College
|Presidential ticket||Party||Ballot access|
|Bush / Cheney||Republican||50+DC|
|Kerry / Edwards||Democrat||50+DC|
|Badnarik / Campagna||Libertarian||48+DC|
|Peroutka / Baldwin||Constitution||36|
|Nader / Camejo||Independent, Reform||34+DC|
|Cobb / LaMarche||Green||27+DC|
Faithless elector in Minnesota
One elector in Minnesota cast a ballot for president with the name of "John Ewards" [sic] written on it. The Electoral College officials certified this ballot as a vote for John Edwards for president. The remaining nine electors cast ballots for John Kerry. All ten electors in the state cast ballots for John Edwards for vice president (John Edwards's name was spelled correctly on all ballots for vice president). This was the first time in U.S. history that an elector had cast a vote for the same person to be both president and vice president.
Electoral balloting in Minnesota was performed by secret ballot, and none of the electors admitted to casting the Edwards vote for president, so it may never be known who the faithless elector was. It is not even known whether the vote for Edwards was deliberate or unintentional; the Republican Secretary of State and several of the Democratic electors have expressed the opinion that this was an accident.
Electoral vote error in New York
New York's initial electoral vote certificate indicated that all of its 31 electoral votes for president were cast for "John L. Kerry of Massachusetts" instead of John F. Kerry, who won the popular vote in the state. This was apparently the result of a typographical error, and an amended electoral vote certificate with the correct middle initial was transmitted to the President of the Senate prior to the official electoral vote count.
- Compared to 2000 vs. Al Gore, Bush picked up a net gain of 8 electoral votes due to narrow victories in Iowa and New Mexico while conceding a close loss in New Hampshire, and a net gain of 7 votes due to the reapportionment of electors in 2003 as a result of the 2000 census, for a total net gain of 15 electoral votes.
- This was the first election since 1988 in which the winning presidential candidate of either party won an absolute majority (over 50%) of the popular vote.
- 2004 marked the only time at which a president who lost the popular vote in the preceding election won it in the following election.
- Bush won the popular vote with 50.73% to Kerry's 48.27%. Although in percentage terms it was the closest popular margin ever for a victorious sitting president, Bush received 2.5% more than Kerry. Bush's absolute victory margin (approximately 3 million votes) was the smallest of any sitting president since Harry S. Truman in 1948.
- At least 12 million more votes were cast than in the 2000 election. Voter turnout was unusually high. American University's Center for the Study of the American Electorate reported a record turnout of 60.7% of eligible voting-age citizens, 6.4% higher than turnout in the previous election and the highest since 1968. Note, however, that the "eligible" voting-age electorate is by definition smaller than the total voting-age population. In a formal report, the Federal Election Commission released a lower figure of 56.70% for the percentage of the electorate that voted for a presidential candidate, based on the latter, larger pool (as calculated by the Census Bureau).
- Owing to the nation's growing population and large turnout, both Bush and Kerry received more votes than any previous presidential candidate in American history. The previous record was held by Republican Ronald Reagan, who in 1984 received 54.4 million votes.
- Five states saw every county vote for one candidate: Bush won every county in Utah and Oklahoma while Kerry won every county in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Hawaii.
- As in 2000, electoral votes split along sharp geographical lines: the West Coast, Northeast, and most of the Great Lakes region for Kerry, and the South, Great Plains, and Mountain States for Bush. The widespread support for Bush in the Southern states continued the transformation of the formerly Democratic Solid South to the Republican South.
- This is the first time a candidate from either party won the presidency without carrying a single Northeastern state.
- Minor party candidates received many fewer votes, dropping from a total of 3.5% in 2000 to approximately one percent. As in 2000, Ralph Nader finished in third place, but his total declined from 2.9 million to 400,000 votes, leaving him with fewer votes than Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan had received in finishing fourth in 2000.
- The 2004 election completed the transition of Illinois from a swing state into a reliably Democratic one. Through the 2000 election both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates campaigned in the state during elections. It went for Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush from 1980 to 1988; Bill Clinton and Al Gore from 1992 to 2000. In 2000 both Bush and Gore spent large amounts of time and resources in the state; in 2004 similar spending did not take place.
- The election marked the first time an incumbent president was returned to office while his political party increased its numbers in both houses of Congress since Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1964 election. It was the first time for a Republican since William McKinley in the 1900 election. This did not last for long, however, as the Republicans lost control of both chambers of Congress in the 2006 elections.
- Although the election was close, nearly half of U.S. voters lived in a county where Bush or Kerry won by 20 percentage points or more. By comparison, only a quarter lived in such counties in 1976.
- This is the most recent election in which the Democratic Party nominated a person with military service.
- This is the first time New Hampshire did not support a Republican who was elected, which happened again in 2016.
- This is the last time that the losing candidate won the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
- This is the most recent election when a candidate won while earning less than 300 electoral votes.
- This is the last election in which the Democrats nominated two white men.
Electoral College changes from 2000
With the completion of the 2000 census, Congressional reapportionment took place, moving some representative districts from the slowest growing states to the fastest growing. As a result, several states had a different number of electors in the U.S. Electoral College in 2004 than in 2000, since the number of electors allotted to each state is equal to the sum of the number of Senators and Representatives from that state.
The following table shows the change in electors from the 2000 election. Red states represent those won by Bush; and blue states, those won by both Gore and Kerry. All states except Nebraska and Maine use a winner-take-all allocation of electors. Each of these states was won by the same party in 2004 that had won it in 2000; thus, George W. Bush received a net gain of seven electoral votes due to reapportionment while the Democrats lost the same amount.
|Gained votes||Lost votes|
|The 2004 presidential vote by demographic subgroup|
|Demographic subgroup||Kerry||Bush||Other||% of|
|Religious service attendance|
|More than weekly||35||64||1||16|
|A few times a year||54||45||1||28|
|White evangelical or born-again Christian?|
|White evangelical or born-again Christian||21||78||1||23|
|18–29 years old||54||45||1||17|
|30–44 years old||46||53||1||29|
|45–59 years old||48||51||1||30|
|60 and older||46||54||0||24|
|First time voter?|
|First time voter||53||46||1||11|
|Gay, lesbian, or bisexual||77||22||1||4|
|Not a high school graduate||50||49||1||4|
|High school graduate||47||52||1||22|
|Some college education||46||54||0||32|
During the campaign and as the results came in on the night of the election there was much focus on Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida. These three swing states were seen as evenly divided, and with each casting 20 electoral votes or more, they had the power to decide the election. As the final results came in, Kerry took Pennsylvania and then Bush took Florida, focusing all attention on Ohio.
The morning after the election, the major candidates were neck and neck. It was clear that the result in Ohio, along with two other states who had still not declared (New Mexico and Iowa), would decide the winner. Bush had established a lead of around 130,000 votes but the Democrats pointed to provisional ballots that had yet to be counted, initially reported to number as high as 200,000. Bush had preliminary leads of less than 5% of the vote in only four states, but if Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico had all eventually gone to Kerry, a win for Bush in Ohio would have created a 269–269 tie in the Electoral College. The result of an electoral tie would cause the election to be decided in the House of Representatives with each state casting one vote, regardless of population. Such a scenario would almost certainly have resulted in a victory for Bush, as Republicans controlled more House delegations. Therefore, the outcome of the election hinged solely on the result in Ohio, regardless of the final totals elsewhere. In the afternoon of the day after the election, Ohio's Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, announced that it was statistically impossible for the Democrats to make up enough valid votes in the provisional ballots to win. At the time provisional ballots were reported as numbering 140,000 (and later estimated to be only 135,000). Faced with this announcement, John Kerry conceded defeat.
The upper Midwest bloc of Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin is also notable, casting a sum of 27 electoral votes. The following is list of the states considered swing states in the 2004 election by most news organizations and which candidate they eventually went for. The two major parties chose to focus their advertising on these states:
Presidential popular votes cartogram, in which the sizes of counties have been rescaled according to their population.
Election conspiracy theories
This section may present fringe theories, without giving appropriate weight to the mainstream view, and explaining the responses to the fringe theories. (January 2021) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Although the overall result of the election was not challenged by the Kerry campaign, Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik obtained a recount in Ohio. This recount was completed December 28, 2004, although on January 24, 2007, a jury convicted two Ohio elections officials of selecting precincts to recount where they already knew the hand total would match the machine total, thereby avoiding having to perform a full recount.
At the official counting of the electoral votes on January 6, an objection was made under the Electoral Count Act (now 3 U.S.C. § 15) to Ohio's electoral votes. Because the motion was supported by at least one member of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the law required that the two houses separate to debate and vote on the objection. In the House of Representatives, the objection was supported by 31 Democrats. It was opposed by 178 Republicans, 88 Democrats and one independent. Not voting were 52 Republicans and 80 Democrats. Four people elected to the House had not yet taken office, and one seat was vacant. In the Senate, it was supported only by its maker, Barbara Boxer, with 74 Senators opposed and 25 not voting. During the debate, no Senator argued that the outcome of the election should be changed by either court challenge or revote. Boxer claimed that she had made the motion not to challenge the outcome, but "to cast the light of truth on a flawed system which must be fixed now.".
Kerry would later state that "the widespread irregularities make it impossible to know for certain that the [Ohio] outcome reflected the will of the voters." In the same article, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said "I'm not confident that the election in Ohio was fairly decided... We know that there was substantial voter suppression, and the machines were not reliable. It should not be a surprise that the Republicans are willing to do things that are unethical to manipulate elections. That's what we suspect has happened."
Points of controversy
- There is no individual federal agency with direct regulatory authority of the U.S. voting machine industry. However, the Election Assistance Commission has full regulatory authority over federal testing and certification processes, as well as an influential advisory role in certain voting industry matters. Further oversight authority belongs to the Government Accountability Office, regularly investigating voting system related issues.
- The Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, who simultaneously served as co-chair of the 2004 Republican Presidential Campaign, came under fire for failing to uphold his legal obligation to investigate potential voter fraud, manipulation, and irregularities, in a 100-page report by Democrats on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee.
- Walden O'Dell the former CEO of Diebold (the parent company of voting machine manufacturer Diebold Election Systems) was an active fundraiser for George W. Bush's re-election campaign and wrote in a fund-raising letter dated August 13, 2003, that he was committed "to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President."
- Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who was on a short list of George W. Bush's vice-presidential candidates, served as the chairman of ES&S in the early 1990s when it operated under the name American Information Systems Inc. (AIS). ES&S voting machines tabulated 85 percent of the votes cast in Hagel's 2002 and 1996 election races. In 2003 Hagel disclosed a financial stake in McCarthy Group Inc., the holding company of ES&S.
- Global Election Systems, which was purchased by Diebold Election Systems and developed the core technology behind the company's voting machines and voter registration system, employed five convicted felons as consultants and developers.
- Jeff Dean, a former senior vice-president of Global Election Systems when it was bought by Diebold, had previously been convicted of 23 counts of felony theft in the first degree. Bev Harris reports Dean was retained as a consultant by Diebold Election Systems, though Diebold has disputed the consulting relationship. Dean was convicted of theft via "alteration of records in the computerized accounting system" using a "high degree of sophistication" to evade detection over a period of 2 years.
- International election observers were barred from the polls in Ohio by then Republican Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. Blackwell's office argues this was the correct interpretation of Ohio law.
- California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley decertified all Diebold Election Systems touch-screen voting machines due to computer-science reports released detailing design and security concerns.
- 30% of all U.S. votes cast in the 2004 election were cast on direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machine, which do not print individual paper records of each vote.
- Numerous statistical analyses showed "discrepancy in the number of votes Bush received in counties that used the touch-screen machines and counties that used other types of voting equipment" as well as discrepancies with exit polls, favoring President George W. Bush.
New during this campaign
At the invitation of the United States government, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sent a team of observers to monitor the presidential elections in 2004. It was the first time the OSCE had sent observers to a U.S. presidential election, although they had been invited in the past. In September 2004 the OSCE issued a report on U.S. electoral processes and the election final report. The report reads: "The November 2, 2004 elections in the United States mostly met the OSCE commitments included in the 1990 Copenhagen Document. They were conducted in an environment that reflects a long-standing democratic tradition, including institutions governed by the rule of law, free and generally professional media, and a civil society intensively engaged in the election process. There was exceptional public interest in the two leading presidential candidates and the issues raised by their respective campaigns, as well as in the election process itself."
Earlier, some 13 U.S. Representatives from the Democratic Party had sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking for the UN to monitor the elections. The UN responded that such a request could only come from the official national executive. The move was met with opposition from some Republican lawmakers. The OSCE is not affiliated with the United Nations.
For 2004, some states expedited the implementation of electronic voting systems for the election, raising several issues:
- Software. Without proper testing and certification, critics believe electronic voting machines could produce an incorrect report due to malfunction or deliberate manipulation.
- Recounts. A recount of an electronic voting machine is not a recount in the traditional sense. The machine can be audited for irregularities and voting totals stored on multiple backup devices can be compared, but vote counts will not change.
- Partisan ties. Democrats noted the Republican or conservative ties of several leading executives in the companies providing the machines.
Campaign law changes
The 2004 election was the first to be affected by the campaign finance reforms mandated by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as the McCain–Feingold Bill for its sponsors in the United States Senate). Because of the Act's restrictions on candidates' and parties' fundraising, a large number of so-called 527 groups emerged. Named for a section of the Internal Revenue Code, these groups were able to raise large amounts of money for various political causes as long as they do not coordinate their activities with political campaigns. Examples of 527s include Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, MoveOn.org, the Media Fund, and America Coming Together. Many such groups were active throughout the campaign season (there was some similar activity, although on a much lesser scale, during the 2000 campaign).
To distinguish official campaigning from independent campaigning, political advertisements on television were required to include a verbal disclaimer identifying the organization responsible for the advertisement. Advertisements produced by political campaigns usually included the statement, "I'm [candidate's name], and I approve this message." Advertisements produced by independent organizations usually included the statement, "[Organization name] is responsible for the content of this advertisement", and from September 3 (60 days before the general election), such organizations' ads were prohibited from mentioning any candidate by name. Previously, television advertisements only required a written "paid for by" disclaimer on the screen.
This law was not well known or widely publicized at the beginning of the Democratic primary season, which led to some early misperception of Howard Dean, who was the first candidate to buy television advertising in this election cycle. Not realizing that the law required the phrasing, some people viewing the ads reportedly questioned why Dean might say such a thing—such questions were easier to ask because of the maverick nature of Dean's campaign in general.
Colorado's Amendment 36
A ballot initiative in Colorado, known as Amendment 36, would have changed the way in which the state apportions its electoral votes. Rather than assigning all 9 of the state's electors to the candidate with a plurality of popular votes, under the amendment Colorado would have assigned presidential electors proportionally to the statewide vote count, which would be a unique system (Nebraska and Maine assign electoral votes based on vote totals within each congressional district). Opponents claimed that this splitting would diminish Colorado's influence in the Electoral College, and the amendment ultimately failed, receiving only 34% of the vote.
- Timeline of the 2004 United States presidential election
- Ralph Nader's presidential campaigns
- Jesusland map
- Newspaper endorsements in the 2004 United States presidential election
- History of the United States (1991–2008)
- Kerry Fonda 2004 election photo controversy
- Killian documents authenticity issues
- Second inauguration of George W. Bush
- White House shakeup (2004)
- 2004 United States gubernatorial elections
- 2004 United States House of Representatives elections
- 2004 United States Senate elections
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Official candidate websites
- Michael Badnarik (Libertarian) (archived version from the U.S. Library of Congress United States Election 2004 Web Archive)
- George W. Bush (Republican) (archived version from the U.S. Library of Congress United States Election 2004 Web Archive)
- David Cobb (Green) (archived version from the U.S. Library of Congress United States Election 2004 Web Archive)
- John Kerry (Democrat) (archived version from the U.S. Library of Congress United States Election 2004 Web Archive)
- Ralph Nader (Independent) (archived version from the U.S. Library of Congress United States Election 2004 Web Archive)
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Election maps and analysis
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- Alternate views of the electoral results map
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State-by-state forecasts of electoral vote outcome
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