What are the biggest deviations in popular and electoral vote?

By | October 29, 2016

While writing “What other presidents and candidates have been considered demagogues?”, I was reminded of the other two articles I wrote about presidential elections and wondered which elections had the biggest margins. Here are the results:

Year Winner Popular Margin Electoral Margin Difference
1980 Ronald Reagan 50.75% 90.89% 40.14%
1912 Woodrow Wilson 41.84% 81.92% 40.08%
1984 Ronald Reagan 58.77% 97.58% 38.81%
1936 Franklin Roosevelt 60.80% 98.49% 37.69%
1972 Richard Nixon 60.67% 96.65% 35.98%
1864 Abraham Lincoln 55.03% 90.99% 35.96%


1980 – Reagan vs. Carter

Ronald Reagan, ultimately, won this election because the economy was bad and voters felt like a conservative, Republican approach to the economy was the only way out. Even today, people felt like Jimmy Carter dropped the ball in how the Iran hostage crisis was handled.

1912 – Wilson vs. Rooseevelt vs. Taft vs. Debs

A Socialist, a Democrat and two Republicans walk into a bar… and an independent party is born! The Progressive Party was created by Theodore Roosevelt in response to Taft receiving the Republican nomination. This split the Republican party and was probably a huge factor in why Wilson was able to secure the presidency. This election was the last time that a third-party candidate came up second in a presidential election.

1984 – Reagan vs. Monsdale

Reagan won in 1980 because voters felt that Jimmy Carter was doing a bad job. So the Democratic Party, in their infinite wisdom, decides the best candidate to run against Reagan in 1984 is Carter’s VP, Walter Monsdale. He carried 49 out of 50 states in this election, tying Nixon for the most states carried.

1936 – Roosevelt vs. Landon

Alf Landon barely campaigned and FDR was still very popular from enacting his New Deal. Electorally-speaking, this is the greatest presidential victory since George Washington took 100% of the electoral vote in 1776.

1972 – Nixon vs. McGovern

This was the first election where voters between the age of 18-20 where allowed to vote. George McGovern thought this would work in his advantage but, ultimately, Nixon won. McGovern lost face when he had to chose a new VP because his original pick, Thomas Eagleton, had a history of depression. Also, due to his stance against the Vietnam war, McGovern was seen as a left-wing extremist. Ultimately, Nixon won because of these reasons.

1864 – Lincoln vs. McClellan

Lincoln went into this election fully expecting to lose because things were not going well in the Civil War. Ultimately, the Democratic candidate, Thomas McClellan, ran an inconsistent campaign  (Does it make sense to have a battlefield general running on a campaign for peace?) and there was a decisive union victory in Atlanta shortly before the election.

While writing this article, two questions came to mind “Is it possible that George H. W. Bush used his CIA connections to rig the election?” and “What exactly is the Electoral College?” It’s normally my policy to not write up articles based on questions that have already been easily answered but in this case, for the latter, I think I’ll make an exception.

Statistical Sources:


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