List of United States presidential elections by Electoral College margin

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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[edit]

Informal definition[edit]

The margin of victory in a U.S. presidential election, with the exception below, would be the difference between the number of Electoral College votes garnered by the candidate with an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270 of 538) and the number received by the second place candidate (currently in the range of 2 to 538, a margin of one vote is only possible with an odd total number of electors).

The exception would occur if no candidate receives an absolute majority of votes in the Electoral College. In such a situation, the House of Representatives would hold a contingent presidential election. As prescribed by the Constitution, the House would choose from among the three candidates who received the most electoral votes. (Thus, the winner could be a candidate who initially finished in third-place with one electoral vote.) Each state delegation votes en bloc, with each state having a single vote. A candidate is required to receive an absolute majority of state delegation votes (currently 26 votes) in order for that candidate to become the president-elect.

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 won with a majority of 32 votes. At first glance, the election of 1848 appears closer, because Zachary Taylor won with a majority of only 18 votes, however, Nixon could have received as many as 269 votes above a majority (if he had won unanimously), while Taylor could only have received 145 votes above the majority. Thus, the two elections must be normalized to each other to compare them: Nixon's margin of victory is calculated by dividing 32 by 269 to get 0.119. The same is done with Taylor by dividing 18 by 145, to get 0.124. Nixon's election was actually closer, because a smaller fraction of the electors separated Nixon from facing a contingent election in the House.

While the above explanation applies to modern elections, initially the process was different. Prior to the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804, the winner of the presidential election was whoever received both a majority of electors to vote for them, and who received the most votes, because each elector cast two presidential votes. Thus, if two candidates had above 50% of the electors, the margin of victory is the victorious candidate's margin over the other candidate who had above 50% of the electors. Of the four elections prior to the 12th Amendment, 1792 and 1800 both involved two candidates receiving above 50% of the electoral votes.

Mathematical definition[edit]

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[edit]

Under the procedure provided in Article II, Section 1, Clause 3 of the Constitution, by which the Electoral College functioned during the first four presidential elections (prior to ratification of the Twelfth Amendment), each elector cast 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 receiving the second highest number of combined electoral votes, and thus was elected vice president, for each of these elections except for the 1800 election, which ended in a tie between two candidates – 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.

In the following table, the election of 1824 is ranked closer than the election of 1800 because the 1800 election resulted in a tie between the same party's candidates for President and Vice President (as presidential and vice presidential electoral votes were not distinguished), while the election of 1824 resulted in the contingent election in the House of Representatives selecting the candidate who had won the second highest number of electoral votes (out of the top three) since no candidate got a majority.

  Presidency decided by the House of Representatives
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 tie: 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 56.51%
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[e] 99.57%
2. 1792 George Washington[f] 132 132 77 1.000[e] 100%
1. 1788-89 George Washington[f][g] 69 69 34 1.000[e] 100%

Notes:

  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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 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 after 36 ballots. 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.
  3. ^ Votes which were not counted do not change the majority needed to win. In 1820, there were 232 counted votes as three electors had died and there was insufficient time for replacements to be found, but the winner needed 118 (majority of 235) votes to win. In 1872, three votes cast for the deceased Horace Greeley for president were rejected (349 counted votes), but 177 votes were needed to win (majority of 352).
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b c The elections of 1788-89, 1792, and 1820 had a candidate run effectively unopposed. However, Monroe did not receive all of the counted electoral votes in 1820 as an elector from New Hampshire, William Plumer, voted for John Quincy Adams.
  6. ^ a b George Washington received the vote of every elector, but the second vote of each elector was split among other candidates under the system in place.
  7. ^ 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, while New York failed to appoint its electors before the appropriate deadline because its state legislature was deadlocked.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]