Most Popular Votes Ever… Until Next Time

Another one of those factoids floating around, in the absence of final, definitive data relating to this year’s presidential election is the number of actual votes the ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is receiving. Yesterday, Biden said “we’re on track to receive more than 71 million votes. That’s more popular votes than any other presidential ticket in history.” And he’s absolutely right. However…

As I start writing this, Biden and Harris are up to approximately 72.5 million votes. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have approximately 68.9 million.

While it is entirely true that Biden/Harris will get more votes than any other presidential ticket, it is also incredibly trite. It’s actually much more interesting (and less common) for a president to be elected with fewer popular votes than a previous president. That’s only happened 21 times in the 58 presidential elections we’ve had (in 1792, 1796, 1800, 1816, 1820, 1824, 1912, 1924, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1960, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2012, and 2016). The reasons those vote totals were lower vary, from the fact that no one was running against James Monroe in 1820, to the four-way free-for-all in 1824, from increasing discomfort with Franklin Roosevelt’s continual presidency in 1940 and 1944, to incredibly close elections in 1960 and 2000, to strong third-party candidate showings in 1912, 1968, 1980, 1992, and 1996.

Popular vote increases over time, as does the population of the US (from 2.8 million in 1780, to 5.3 million in 1800, 23 million in 1850, 77 million in 1900, 151 million in 1950, 281 million in 2000, to 328 million today, for example), the number of citizens (those eligible to vote), and the number of registered voters. And then, of course, in addition to the steady growth of those numbers, there were also the quantum leaps: the extension of popular vote throughout the states in the early years of the republic, the 15th guaranteeing the former slaves the right to vote (in 1870), the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote (in 1920), the 26th Amendment lowering the voting age to 18 (in 1971), and so on.

Popular vote milestones (the first candidate to reach):
100,000: Thomas Jefferson in 1804 (104,110)
500,000: Andrew Jackson in 1828 (642,553)
1,000,000: William Henry Harrison in 1840 (1,275,390)
2,000,000: Abraham Lincoln in 1864 (2,218,388)
5,000,000: Grover Cleveland losing in 1888 (5,534,488)
10,000,000: Warren Harding in 1920 (16,144,093)
20,000,000: Herbert Hoover in 1928 (21,427,123)
30,000,000: Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 (34,075,529)
40,000,000: Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (43,127,041)
50,000,000: Ronald Reagan in 1984 (54,455,472)
60,000,000: George W. Bush in 2004 (62,040,610)
70,000,000: Joe Biden in 2020


Presidents who received more popular votes than any other candidate in history:
George Washington in 1789: 43,782
Thomas Jefferson in 1804: 104,110
James Madison in 1808: 124,732
James Madison in 1812: 140,431
Andrew Jackson in 1828: 642,553
Andrew Jackson in 1832: 701,780
Martin Van Buren in 1836: 764,176
William Harrison in 1840: 1,275,390
James Polk in 1844: 1,339,494
Zachary Taylor in 1848: 1,361,393
Franklin Pierce in 1852: 1,607,510
James Buchanan in 1856: 1,836,072
Abraham Lincoln in 1860: 1,865,908
Abraham Lincoln in 1864: 2,218,388
Ulysses Grant in 1868: 3,013,421
Ulysses Grant in 1872: 3,598,235
James Garfield in 1880: 4,446,158
Grover Cleveland in 1884: 4,914,482
Grover Cleveland in 1892: 5,556,918
William McKinley in 1896: 7,112,138
William McKinley in 1900: 7,228,864
Theodore Roosevelt in 1904: 7,630,457
William Taft in 1908: 7,678,395
Woodrow Wilson in 1916: 9,126,868
Warren Harding in 1920: 16,144,093 (the first election in which women could vote legally)
Herbert Hoover in 1928: 21,427,123
Franklin Roosevelt in 1932: 22,821,277
Franklin Roosevelt in 1936: 27,747,636
Dwight Eisenhower in 1952: 34,075,529
Dwight Eisenhower in 1956: 35,579,180
Lyndon Johnson in 1964: 43,127,041
Richard Nixon in 1972: 47,168,710
Ronald Reagan in 1984: 54,455,472
George W. Bush in 2004: 62,040,610
Barack Obama in 2008: 69,498,516
And now, Joe Biden in 2020.

And those who didn’t win the election, but still received more popular votes than any other candidate in history:
Andrew Jackson in 1824: 151,271
Samuel Tilden in 1876: 4,288,546
Grover Cleveland in 1888: 5,534,488

And for those of you who are more graphically inclined, here’s a graph of popular vote totals over time. Each time the top line makes a new high marks an election in which a presidential candidate received more popular votes than any other candidate in history.popularvotetotals

Tips gratefully accepted: paypal.me/ianrandalstrock

One thought on “Most Popular Votes Ever… Until Next Time

  1. And a word of caution to all of you anti-Trump voters: at 5pm EST on November 6, 2020, Donald Trump is credited with at least 69.96 million votes. Only one person in American history has received more votes for president (Joe Biden, this year, who is currently showing 74.08 million). And as many people as you think Donald Trump may have alienated in the last four years, he has 7 million more votes this year than in 2016.

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