Although it is not a requirement, the concession speech of the losing candidate has become a customary element of each U.S. presidential election. It is seen as a sign of acceptance by the losing candidate, and signals the peaceful transfer of power in cases where the incumbent president has lost re-election. As a courtesy, the winning candidate usually waits for the loser to make their concession speech before claiming victory. In the majority of cases, the concession came on either election day or the day following the election (often in the early hours of the morning); although in 2000 it took 36 days for the loser to concede, while the fallout from the most recent election saw Donald Trump become the first major party candidate to not concede defeat in over ninety years .
In 1896, William Jennings Bryan began the tradition of publicly conceding the election by sending a courtesy telegram to his opponent, William McKinley. From 1896 until 1972, losing candidates generally sent a private concession telegram to their opponent, before the telegram was replaced by a customary phone call in 1976. In addition to these personal messages, televised speeches also became the norm from 1952 onwards, when Adlai Stevenson conceded to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Between 1928 and 1948, some candidates also conceded via a radio address (Thomas E. Dewey did so without privately conceding in 1944), while Wendell Wilkie's concession speech in 1940 was publicly broadcast in movie theaters.
2000 and 2020 controversies
On election day in 2000, the early results were signaling a victory for George W. Bush, and Al Gore called his opponent and privately conceded the election; however, before Gore could concede publicly, later counts brought the nationwide results closer and he withdrew his concession. Eventually, the electoral college result was to be decided by Florida, where Bush was leading, however the count was so close that it triggered an automatic recount. Following a month-long process of recounts and court cases, it was declared that Bush won Florida by just 537 votes, and Al Gore officially conceded 36 days after election day.
In contrast to 2000, Joe Biden received over seven million more popular votes than his opponent (no individual state was won by a margin of fewer than 10,000 votes), and secured 306 electoral votes, which were cast at each state's meeting of electors in December without irregularities. Despite all of this, President Trump spent most of his final ten weeks in office claiming victory, and that the election had been stolen due to widespread voter and election fraud. Neither the president nor his legal team provided any evidence of these claims, and all appeals to overturn results were rejected by the courts. On January 6, Congress convened to certify the election results; at the same time, Trump gave a speech encouraging his supporters to march upon the Capitol building, which led to them storming and vandalizing the building. Five people died in connection with this. After the rioters were dispersed, Congress reconvened and certified the results. The following week, Trump was impeached for the second time. Joe Biden became President on January 20th, while Donald Trump left office without publicly accepting the results of the 2020 election.
Number of days following the U.S. presidential election for the losing major party candidate to concede from 1896 to 2020
*In the 78 days between the election and President Joe Biden's inauguration, former-President Trump refused to concede defeat.
**Candidate conceded before 3:30am ET on the morning following the election.
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American Presidency Project. (January 21, 2021). Number of days following the U.S. presidential election for the losing major party candidate to concede from 1896 to 2020 [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1186099/days-until-concession-us-elections/
American Presidency Project. "Number of days following the U.S. presidential election for the losing major party candidate to concede from 1896 to 2020." Chart. January 21, 2021. Statista. Accessed May 16, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1186099/days-until-concession-us-elections/
American Presidency Project. (2021). Number of days following the U.S. presidential election for the losing major party candidate to concede from 1896 to 2020. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: May 16, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1186099/days-until-concession-us-elections/
American Presidency Project. "Number of Days following The U.S. Presidential Election for The Losing Major Party Candidate to Concede from 1896 to 2020." Statista, Statista Inc., 21 Jan 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1186099/days-until-concession-us-elections/
American Presidency Project, Number of days following the U.S. presidential election for the losing major party candidate to concede from 1896 to 2020 Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1186099/days-until-concession-us-elections/ (last visited May 16, 2022)