List of United States presidential elections by Electoral College margin

The table below is a list of United States presidential elections ordered by margin of victory in the Electoral College vote.

Definition of the margin

Informal definition

The margin of victory in a U.S. presidential election, with the exception below, would be the difference between the number of electoral votes won by the candidate with at least a majority of electoral votes (currently 270 of 538) and the number received by the second place candidate. Theoretically this number would be in the range of 2 to 538. The numbers above assume that all electors vote.

The exception would occur if no candidate receives a majority of the electoral vote (this includes a tie). In that case, the House of Representatives, voting as state delegations, would choose from up to three candidates who received the most electoral votes. Thus the winner could be an initially third-place candidate who received one electoral vote.

Because the Electoral College has grown in size, the results are normalized to compensate. For example, take two elections, 1848 and 1968. In the election of 1968 Richard Nixon got a majority by 32 votes. At first glance, the election of 1848 appears closer, because Zachary Taylor got a majority by only 18 votes. But Nixon could have gotten as many as 269 votes above a majority (if he had won unanimously), while Taylor could only have gotten 145 votes above a majority. Thus, we normalize the two elections to compare them. We calculate Nixon's margin of victory by dividing the 32 by 269 to get 0.119. We do the same with Taylor, dividing 18 by 145, to get 0.124. And we find that Nixon's election was actually closer because a smaller fraction of the electors separated Nixon from a contingent election.

While the above explanation applies to modern elections, initially the process was different. Prior to the passage of the 12th Amendment, the winner of the presidential election was the person who got both a majority of electors to vote for him and who got the most votes, because each elector cast two presidential votes. Thus, for elections prior to 1804, if two candidates got above 50% of the electors, the margin of victory is the victorious candidate's margin over the other candidate who got above 50% of the electors. Of the four elections prior to the 12th Amendment, two involved two candidates getting above 50% of the electors: 1792 and 1800.

Mathematical definition

The margin of victory in the election is calculated as follows:

Let c be the total number of electors voting in the election. Let w be the number of electoral votes cast for the candidate with the most electoral votes, and let r be the number of votes for the runner-up.

The Constitution provides that if the candidate with the most votes does not receive a simple majority of the electors voting, the House of Representatives chooses the president. So, the margin of victory is the number of electoral votes over both the runner-up and half the electoral votes cast. For elections after the passage of the 12th Amendment, the runner-up will always have less than half of the electoral votes cast, so the absolute margin of victory will be the difference of the winner's electoral votes and half the electoral votes cast. To express this in mathematical formulae:

The minimum possible value for the margin of victory is clearly zero. The maximum possible value of the margin of victory occurs in the case in which each elector casts a vote for the winning candidate and the runner-up gets no more than half of the vote. In this case, the maximum margin of victory is c/2. In order to meaningfully compare election to election, we need that maximum margin to be constant from election to election. Thus, we divide the absolute margin of victory by c/2 to get a normalized margin of victory that ranges from 0 to 1:

Table of election results

Note that the elections of 1789, 1792, 1796, and 1800 took place before the 12th Amendment and thus each elector had two votes (one for president and one for vice president, but did not distinguish between them). The table's "runner-up" column shows the number of electoral votes for the candidate who got the second highest number of combined electoral votes (and thus was elected vice-president) for each of these years except 1800. The 1800 election was a tie between the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the same party. The value in the "runner-up" column for 1800 is the number of electoral votes received by the presidential candidate of the other major political party (even though the two winning candidates each received more electoral votes than he did). The number in parentheses in the "Rank" column is the rank that would have been assigned to this election under the rules of the 12th Amendment.

Also note that in the following table, the election of 1824 is ranked closer than the election of 1800 because the election of 1800 resulted in a two-way draw between the same party's candidates for President and Vice President (since presidential and vice presidential electoral votes were not distinguished), while the election of 1824 resulted in the House of Representatives selecting the person who won the second largest number of electoral votes (out of the top 3) when no candidate got a majority.

Rank Year Winner Number of electors voting Normalized victory margin Percentage
total winner runner-up
(c) (w) (r)
58. 1824 second-place winner: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford[a] 261 84 99 0.000 32.18%
57. 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes 369 185 184 0.003 50.14%
56. 2000 George W. Bush 538 271 266 0.009 50.37%
55. 1796 John Adams 138 71 68 0.029 51.45%
54. 1916 Woodrow Wilson 531 277 254 0.043 52.17%
53. 1800 draw: Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr[b] 138 73 65 0.000 52.90%
52. 2004 George W. Bush 538 286 251 0.063 53.16%
51. 1884 Grover Cleveland 401 219 182 0.092 54.61%
50. 1976 Jimmy Carter 538 297 240 0.104 55.20%
49. 1968 Richard Nixon 538 301 191 0.119 55.95%
48. 1848 Zachary Taylor 290 163 127 0.124 56.21%
47. 1960 John F. Kennedy 537 303 219 0.128 56.42%
46. 2016 Donald Trump 538 304 227 0.130 56.50%
45. 1948 Harry S. Truman 531 303 189 0.141 57.06%
44. 1836 Martin Van Buren 294 170 73 0.156 57.82%
43. 1880 James A. Garfield 369 214 155 0.160 57.99%
42. 1888 Benjamin Harrison 401 233 168 0.162 58.10%
41. 1856 James Buchanan 296 174 114 0.176 58.78%
40. 1812 James Madison 217 128 89 0.180 58.99%
39. 1860 Abraham Lincoln 303 180 72 0.188 59.41%
38. 1896 William McKinley 447 271 176 0.213 60.63%
37. 2012 Barack Obama 538 332 206 0.234 61.71%
36. 1844 James K. Polk 275 170 105 0.236 61.82%
35. 1892 Grover Cleveland 444 277 145 0.248 62.39%
34. 1900 William McKinley 447 292 155 0.306 65.32%
33. 1908 William Howard Taft 483 321 162 0.329 66.46%
32. 2008 Barack Obama 538 365 173 0.357 67.84%
31. 1828 Andrew Jackson 261 178 83 0.364 68.20%
30. 1992 Bill Clinton 538 370 168 0.375 68.77%
29. 1808 James Madison 175 122 47 0.394 69.71%
28. 1996 Bill Clinton 538 379 159 0.409 70.45%
27. 1904 Theodore Roosevelt 476 336 140 0.412 70.59%
26. 1924 Calvin Coolidge 531 382 136 0.439 71.94%
25. 1868 Ulysses S. Grant 294 214 80 0.456 72.79%
24. 1920 Warren G. Harding 531 404 127 0.522 76.08%
23. 1832 Andrew Jackson 286 219 49 0.531 76.57%
22. 1988 George H. W. Bush 538 426 111 0.584 79.18%
21. 1840 William Henry Harrison 294 234 60 0.592 79.59%
20. 1944 Franklin D. Roosevelt 531 432 99 0.627 81.36%
19. 1912 Woodrow Wilson 531 435 88 0.638 81.92%
18. 1872 Ulysses S. Grant[c] 352 286 42 0.639 81.95%
17. 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower 531 442 89 0.665 83.24%
16. 1928 Herbert Hoover 531 444 87 0.672 83.62%
15. 1816 James Monroe 217 183 34 0.687 84.33%
14. 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt 531 449 82 0.691 84.56%
13. 1852 Franklin Pierce 296 254 42 0.716 85.81%
12. 1956 Dwight D. Eisenhower 531 457 73 0.721 86.06%
11. 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt 531 472 59 0.778 88.89%
10. 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson 538 486 52 0.807 90.33%
9. 1980 Ronald Reagan 538 489 49 0.818 90.89%
8. 1864 Abraham Lincoln 233 212 21 0.820 90.99%
7. 1804 Thomas Jefferson 176 162 14 0.841 92.05%
6. 1972 Richard Nixon 538 520 17 0.933 96.65%
5. 1984 Ronald Reagan 538 525 13 0.952 97.58%
4. 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt 531 523 8 0.970 98.49%
3. 1820 James Monroe[d] 232 231 1 0.991 99.57%
2. 1792 George Washington[e] 132 132 77 1.000* 100%
1. 1789 George Washington[e] [f] 69 69 34 1.000* 100%
  • a None of the presidential candidates in 1824 received a majority of the electoral vote, so the presidential election was decided by the House of Representatives, who selected Adams.
  • b Under the original procedure for the Electoral College, each elector had two votes and voted for two individuals. The candidate receiving the majority of votes became president and the candidate with the second highest number of votes became vice-president. While Jefferson had more electoral votes than his principal opponent, John Adams, he was tied with his own vice-presidential running mate, Aaron Burr, in electoral votes. Because of the tie, the 1800 presidential election was decided by the House of Representatives, who selected Jefferson as president. Subsequently, the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution was enacted in order to provide for the president and vice-president to be elected as a single ticket.
  • c Votes which were not counted don't change the majority needed to win. Although there are only 232 counted votes in 1820, winner needed 118 (majority of 235) votes to win, same in 1872: By resolution of the House, 3 votes cast for Greeley were not counted (makes 349 counted votes) but 177 votes are still needed to win (majority of 352).
  • d There was a dispute as to whether Missouri's electoral votes in 1820 were valid, due to the timing of its assumption of statehood. The figures listed include those votes.
  • e George Washington received the vote of every elector, but the second vote of each elector was split among other candidates.
  • f Only ten of the thirteen states cast electoral votes in the first ever presidential election. North Carolina and Rhode Island were ineligible to participate since they had not yet ratified the United States Constitution. New York failed to appoint its electors before the appropriate deadline because of a deadlock in its state legislature.

See also

External links

Bush v. Gore

Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000), was a decision of the United States Supreme Court that settled a recount dispute in Florida's 2000 presidential election. The ruling was issued on December 12, 2000. On December 9, the Court had preliminarily halted the Florida recount that was occurring. Eight days earlier, the Court unanimously decided the closely related case of Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board. The Electoral College was scheduled to meet on December 18, 2000, to decide the election.

In a per curiam decision, the Court ruled that the use of different standards of counting in different counties

violated the Equal Protection Clause, and ruled that no alternative method could be established within the time limit set by Title 3 of the United States Code (3 U.S.C.), § 5 ("Determination of controversy as to appointment of electors"), which was December 12. The vote regarding the Equal Protection Clause was 7–2, and regarding the lack of an alternative method was 5–4. Three concurring justices also asserted that the Florida Supreme Court had violated Article II, § 1, cl. 2 of the Constitution, by misinterpreting Florida election law that had been enacted by the Florida Legislature.

The Supreme Court decision allowed the previous vote certification to stand, as made by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, for George W. Bush as the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes. Florida's votes gave Bush, the Republican candidate, 271 electoral votes, one more than the required 270 to win the Electoral College, and the defeat of Democratic candidate Al Gore, who received 266 electoral votes (a "faithless elector" from the District of Columbia abstained).

Media organizations subsequently analyzed the ballots and found that the originally proposed county-based recounts would have resulted in a different outcome (Bush victory) than a full statewide recount (Gore victory). Florida subsequently changed to new voting machines to avoid punch cards which had allowed dimpled cards or hanging chad.

List of United States presidential elections by popular vote margin

In a United States presidential election, the popular vote is the total number or percentage of votes cast for a candidate by voters in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.; the candidate who gets the most votes nationwide is said to have won the popular vote. However, the popular vote is not used to determine who is elected as the nation's president or vice president. Thus it is possible for the winner of the popular vote to end up losing the election, an outcome that has occurred on five occasions, most recently in the 2016 election. This is because presidential elections are indirect elections; the votes cast on Election Day are not cast directly for a candidate, but for members of the Electoral College. The Electoral College's electors then formally elect the president and vice president. The Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides the procedure by which the president and vice president are elected.

United States presidential elections in which the winner lost the popular vote

There have been five United States presidential elections in which the winner lost the popular vote including the 1824 election, which was the first U.S. presidential election where the popular vote was recorded. Losing the popular vote means securing less of the national popular vote than the person who received either a majority or a plurality of the vote.In the U.S. presidential election system, instead of the nationwide popular vote determining the outcome of the election, the President of the United States is determined by votes cast by electors of the Electoral College. Alternatively, if no candidate receives an absolute majority of electoral votes, the election is determined by the House of Representatives. These procedures are governed by the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

When individuals cast ballots in the general election, they are choosing electors and telling them whom they should vote for in the Electoral College. The "national popular vote" is the sum of all the votes cast in the general election, nationwide. The presidential elections of 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 produced an Electoral College winner who did not receive the most votes in the general election. In 1824, there were six states in which electors were legislatively appointed, rather than popularly elected, so the true national popular vote is uncertain. When no candidate received a majority of electoral votes in 1824, the election was decided by the House of Representatives. For these two reasons, the 1824 election is distinguishable from the latter four elections, which were held after all states had instituted the popular selection of electors, and in each of which a single candidate won an outright majority of electoral votes, thus becoming president without a contingent election in the House of Representatives. The true national popular vote total was also uncertain in the 1960 election, and the plurality winner depends on how votes for Alabama electors are allocated.

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