U.S. Presidential Election Math

November 19, 2016

Although there have now been four different times — 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016 — when a presidential candidate has won a majority of electoral college votes without having the most straight popular votes, this year’s result produced the greatest disparity between the two votes. There are currently 538 electoral votes. The number of electoral votes allocated to each states equals the number of congressmen from that state in the House of representatives plus two. The addition of two represents the two senators from each state. The 538 grand total equals the 435 members of the House plus the 100 senators plus 3 electoral votes representing the District of Columbia, which is the nation’s capitol. All the electoral votes from each state are cast for that party which got the most popular votes in that state. In two cases, however, electoral votes have a proportional component, those being Maine and Nebraska.

In 1876, Samuel Tilden won 51.5% of the popular vote but lost the electoral vote count to Rutherford B. Hayes by the slimmest of margins, 49.9% to 50.1%. Hayes had 48.5% of the popular vote but became the 19th president and served a single term.

Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison faced off in three straight elections, 1884, 1888 and 1892. Cleveland captured the most popular votes each time but served only two non-consecutive single terms. In 1888 when the popular vote was tilted toward Cleveland by a margin of 50.4% to 49.6%, Harrison took 58.1% of the electoral college and thus became the 23rd president.

In 2000, a 3-person race, the popular vote was won by Al Gore, who captured 48.9% to 48.4% for George W. Bush and 2.7% for Ralph Nader. Nader got no electoral votes, and Bush took the all-important electoral count over Gore by a thin 50.5% to 49.5% margin to become America’s 43rd president.

At latest count in this year’s November 8th election, Clinton won 53.7% of the vote to Trump’s tally of 46.3%, But Trump has won the presidency with a comfortable electoral 56.9% to 43.1% margin assuming that Michigan, which is leaning in Trump’s direction, goes to him. Clinton’s popular vote margin is considerably wider than those of the loser in 1876, 1888 and 2000, yet Trump’s electoral college margin of victory will be the second widest of the four examples, only surpassed by 1888. ¬†As provided in the U.S. Constitution, the president and the vice president are the only elective federal officials not chosen by direct vote of the people.

Copyright 2016, Larry Greenberg. All rights reserved. No secondary distribution without express permission.




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