Donald Trump’s “Landslide” Victory in Historical Context

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly described his electoral college victory as a “landslide“, perhaps most controversially in a Nov. 27 tweet in which he asserted that he also won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally”.  As is often the case, the evidence contradicts Mr. Trump’s view of reality and his apparent ignorance of or disinterest in historical fact.  His victory in the electoral college was hardly a landslide, ranking 46th out of 58 elections.  And since there has thus far been no indication whatsoever of widespread problems with “illegal” voting, Mr. Trump will have to make peace with the fact that his loss of the popular vote by more than 2.8 million votes places him near the very bottom of the list in terms of the popular vote margins of each winning President.

Donald Trump, electoral college, popular vote, Presidential election, infographic



Map of 2016 Electoral College based on a distributed popular vote

The 2016 Presidential election was atypical in ways, not the least of which include the unprecedented disparity between the outcomes in the national popular vote and Electoral College.  But what would happen if, say, Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote were distributed to other parts of the Electoral College map?

[Click image to view full size]

2016 Electoral College, map, infographic, distributed national popular vote, Clinton, Trump

Now, before I go any further, let me be clear. Yes, I know that the Electoral College is specifically designed to avoid scenarios such as the one I just proposed:  i.e., one in which a candidate’s lead in the national popular vote essentially serves as the basis for victory. I get that.  Really.

Nevertheless, visualizing the Electoral College and national popular votes in different ways can be instructive, especially in light of the following:

  • The 2016 election marks just the fourth time in 58 presidential elections that the winner of the Electoral College lost the national popular vote.
  • The results of the election in a number of states defied months of polling data.
  • Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote is approximately 1.9% of all votes cast, nearly four times the 0.5% margin of Al Gore’s popular vote victory over George W. Bush in 2000.
  • If the states Donald Trump won were ranked according to margin of victory, Clinton’s lead in the national popular vote (more than 2.5 million votes) exceeds the combined number of votes by which Trump won in the twelve closest states.
  • Those twelve states represent 191 electoral votes.
  • In the closest three of these states (Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania), the margin of Donald Trump’s victory was especially narrow, ranging from just 0.22% and 0.37% in Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively, to 1.06% in Pennsylvania.
  • If Clinton won these three states – which were decided by a combined total of 97,255 votes, she would have received 278 Electoral College votes, eight more than needed to become President.