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

Informal definition

In modern presidential elections, the margin of victory does not depend on the margin between the winner and his or her main rival. If the “winner” doesn't get a majority of the electoral vote, the election is thrown into the House of Representatives where the candidate's rival may very well be chosen. On the other hand, if a candidate does get a majority, he or she is guaranteed to have more votes than his or her rivals. Thus, the margin of victory should be the candidate's margin of majority; that is, it should be the margin of votes above 50%.

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 (For fair representation, in the 1972 election, Nixon was re-elected with a ratio of 0.926*, a landslide).

Now, there's one more wrinkle. The foregoing explanation applies to modern elections. However, prior to the passage of the 12th Amendment, the winner of the presidential election was the person who got a majority of electors to vote for him and who got the most number of 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. As it happens, 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.

According to the Constitution, the electoral vote called a "draw" and sent into the House of Representatives if the candidate with the most votes does not get a simple majority of the electors voting. 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:

\mbox{absolute margin of victory} = \begin{cases}0; & w \le \frac{c}{2} \\ w - \max\{r, \frac{c}{2}\}; & w > \frac{c}{2} \end{cases}

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:

\mbox{normalized margin of victory} = \begin{cases}0; & w \le \frac{c}{2} \\ \frac{w - \max\{r, \frac{c}{2}\}}{\frac{c}{2}}; & w > \frac{c}{2} \end{cases}

Table of election results

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, while the election of 1824 resulted in a three-way draw.

Also note that the elections of 1789, 1792, 1796, and 1800 took place before the 12th Amendment and thus each elector had two votes (but had to vote for two separate people). For example, George Washington received the vote of every elector, but the second vote of each elector was split amongst other candidates. Thus Washington is accounted to have received 100% of the possible electoral votes.

Rank Year Winner # of
Electors
(c)
Votes cast
for winner
(w)
Votes cast
for runner-up
(r)
Normalized
margin of
victory
Percentage
1. 1824 draw: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford [a] 261 84 99 0.000 32.18%
2. 1800 draw: Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr [b] 138 73 73 0.000 52.90%
3. 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes 369 185 184 0.003 50.14%
4. 2000 George W. Bush 538 271 266 0.009 50.37%
5. 1796 John Adams 138 71 68 0.029 51.45%
6. 1916 Woodrow Wilson 531 277 254 0.043 52.17%
7. 2004 George W. Bush 538 286 251 0.063 53.16%
8. 1884 Grover Cleveland 401 219 182 0.092 54.61%
9. 1976 Jimmy Carter 538 297 240 0.104 55.20%
10. 1968 Richard Nixon 538 301 191 0.119 55.95%
11. 1848 Zachary Taylor 290 163 127 0.124 56.21%
12. 1960 John F. Kennedy 537 303 219 0.128 56.42%
13. 1948 Harry S. Truman 531 303 189 0.141 57.06%
14. 1836 Martin Van Buren 294 170 73 0.156 57.82%
15. 1880 James A. Garfield 369 214 155 0.160 57.99%
16. 1888 Benjamin Harrison 401 233 168 0.162 58.10%
17. 1856 James Buchanan 296 174 114 0.176 58.78%
18. 1812 James Madison 217 128 89 0.180 58.99%
19. 1860 Abraham Lincoln 303 180 72 0.188 59.41%
20. 1896 William McKinley 447 271 176 0.213 60.63%
21. 2012 Barack Obama 538 332 206 0.234 61.71%
22. 1844 James K. Polk 275 170 105 0.236 61.82%
23. 1892 Grover Cleveland 444 277 145 0.248 62.39%
24. 1900 William McKinley 447 292 155 0.306 65.32%
25. 1908 William Howard Taft 483 321 162 0.329 66.46%
26. 2008 Barack Obama 538 365 173 0.357 67.84%
27. 1828 Andrew Jackson 261 178 83 0.364 68.20%
28. 1992 Bill Clinton 538 370 168 0.375 68.77%
29. 1808 James Madison 175 122 47 0.394 69.71%
30. 1996 Bill Clinton 538 379 159 0.409 70.45%
31. 1904 Theodore Roosevelt 476 336 140 0.412 70.59%
32. 1924 Calvin Coolidge 531 382 136 0.439 71.94%
33. 1868 Ulysses S. Grant 294 214 80 0.456 72.79%
34. 1920 Warren G. Harding 531 404 127 0.522 76.08%
35. 1832 Andrew Jackson 286 219 49 0.531 76.57%
36. 1988 George H. W. Bush 538 426 111 0.584 79.18%
37. 1840 William Henry Harrison 294 234 60 0.592 79.59%
38. 1944 Franklin D. Roosevelt 531 432 99 0.627 81.36%
39. 1912 Woodrow Wilson 531 435 88 0.638 81.92%
40. 1872 Ulysses S. Grant[e] 352 286 42 0.639 81.95%
41. 1952 Dwight D. Eisenhower 531 442 89 0.665 83.24%
42. 1928 Herbert Hoover 531 444 87 0.672 83.62%
43. 1816 James Monroe 217 183 34 0.687 84.33%
44. 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt 531 449 82 0.691 84.56%
45. 1852 Franklin Pierce 296 254 42 0.716 85.81%
46. 1956 Dwight D. Eisenhower 531 457 73 0.721 86.06%
47. 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt 531 472 59 0.778 88.89%
48. 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson 538 486 52 0.807 90.33%
49. 1980 Ronald Reagan 538 489 49 0.818 90.89%
50. 1864 Abraham Lincoln 233 212 21 0.820 90.99%
51. 1792 George Washington 132 132 77 0.833* 100%
52. 1804 Thomas Jefferson 176 162 14 0.841 92.05%
53. 1972 Richard Nixon 538 520 17 0.933 96.65%
54. 1984 Ronald Reagan 538 525 13 0.952 97.58%
55. 1936 Franklin D. Roosevelt 531 523 8 0.970 98.49%
56. 1820 James Monroe [c][e] 235 231 1 0.991 99.57%
57. 1789 George Washington [d] 69 69 34 1.000* 100%

*Unanimous; George Washington received the vote of every elector, but the 2nd vote of each elector was split among other candidates. Thus Washington is accounted to have received 100% of the possible electoral votes.**

  • 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 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.
  • d 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.
  • e 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).

See also

References








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