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Popular vote difference in U.S. presidential re-election campaigns 1832-2020

Since the presidency was established, sitting U.S. presidents have campaigned for re-election 28 times in total, with 18 successful re-elections, and ten unsuccessful campaigns. When compared with the proportional difference in the electoral votes, the change in popular votes is often much smaller. The largest difference in popular votes occurred in 1912, where William Taft's share of the votes was 28.4 percent lower than in 1908; this was due to former-President Theodore Roosevelt's campaign as a third party candidate, which syphoned off a large share of Republican support. The smallest ever difference in share of the popular votes occurred in 1888, where Grover Cleveland's share of the popular vote was 0.1 percent higher than in 1884, although he still lost. The only other case of a sitting president winning a higher share of the popular vote but failing to win re-election was in 2020; this was due to the reduced support for third party candidates compared to the 2016 election.

Difference between share of popular votes in re-election campaigns of sitting presidents of the United States from 1832 to 2020

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Release date

November 2020


United States

Survey time period

1832 to 2020

Supplementary notes

This data does not include re-election campaigns of non-sitting presidents, such as Martin Van Buren's campaign in 1848, or Theodore Roosevelt's campaign in 1912.

*Provisional data only, subject to change.

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Statistics on "History of U.S. presidential elections 1789-2016"

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