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Winning margins for votes in U.S. presidential elections 1789-2020

Throughout U.S. history, the difference in the proportion of electoral votes has often been several times larger than the difference in the popular vote. For example, in the 1980s Ronald Reagan received roughly nine and eighteen percent more popular votes than his respective candidates, however he then received roughly seventy percent more electoral votes than both candidates. There are many critics of the electoral college system, whose main argument is that the most popular candidate is not always elected president, while its defenders argue that the system gives proportional representation to all Americans, and prevents candidates from ignoring the interests of those in less-populated states.

The United States uses the electoral college system to elect its presidents, which generally means that the most popular candidate in each state is then given that state's allocation of electoral votes (based on the state's population). Since 1968, there have been 538 electoral votes on offer in each election, meaning that he first candidate to reach 270 electoral votes is declared President. Since 1824, a popular vote has been held among the general public in order to determine the most popular candidate in each state (although women were not granted suffrage until 1920, while black and Native American voters faced widespread voter suppression until the 1960s). Because of the electoral college system, the proportion of popular votes won by a candidate may be very different than the proportion of electoral votes, and this has caused some instances where the candidate with the most electoral votes is declared President of the United States, despite losing the popular vote (such as in 2000 and 2016).

Winning margins in the electoral and popular votes in United States presidential elections from 1789 to 2020

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Sources

Release date

November 2020

Region

United States

Survey time period

1789 to 2020

Supplementary notes

*Provisional data, as of November 16, 2020.

**Horace Greeley died between the popular vote and electoral vote, therefore his allocation of electoral votes was distributed among other political figures.

***Stephen A. Douglas received the second highest share of the popular vote (29.5 percent), but the fourth highest share of electoral votes at 3.96 percent.

****None of the four candidates that year received a majority, therefore the result was decided in the House of Representatives.

Percentage of Electoral College votes calculated using Encyclopedia Britannica data.

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

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