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Closest presidential elections from U.S. history

  • Closest presidential elections from US history

    With the 2020 presidential election quickly approaching, there’s no doubt that it will be among the monumental historical events of the 21st century and in United States history as a whole. But will it be a close election? It’s too soon to tell, but throughout U.S. history, there have surely been a number of close presidential races.

    Take the 2016 election, for example. Obviously the freshest in Americans’ minds, it also happened to be the fifth and most recent election in U.S. history in which the winning candidate, Republican Donald Trump, won the Electoral College, but lost the national popular vote. It was also the 13th-closest election in history so far.

    However, out of the 58 presidential elections that have taken place in the country thus far, what have been the closest presidential elections in history? Going off of that, which presidential elections were won by the biggest landslides?

    Incorporating 1789-2016 presidential election data from 270toWin, Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Elections, and United States Election Project, Stacker ranked how close the electoral vote between the winning presidential candidate and the runner-up candidate was in each of the 58 elections in American history.

    Each slide in this article lists the winning candidate and political affiliation, the runner-up candidate and political affiliation, the number of popular votes and electoral votes received by each candidate, and the voter turnout for each election. The elections of 1820, 1792, and 1789 had the winning presidents run unopposed, so those years do not have information on runner-up presidential candidates. Also, most states did not conduct a popular vote before the election of 1824, so the voter turnout and popular vote data for those elections is scarce.

    So, as you spend the coming weeks making a voting plan and checking in with your friends and family members about theirs, take a moment to look back at some of the closest presidential elections to draw parallels to the upcoming 2020 election.

    [Pictured: Television screens airing the first presidential debate are seen at Walters Sports Bar on September 29, 2020 in Washington D.C.]

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  • #58. 1789: George Washington

    - Winner: George Washington (Federalist)
    --- Electoral votes received: 69 of 69 (100%)
    --- Popular votes received: 43,782 (100%)
    - Runner-up: No candidate
    - Voter turnout: 11.6%

    In the first United States presidential election, George Washington was unanimously elected for his first term and essentially ran unopposed. It took place following the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

    [Pictured: Illustration of U.S. general and politician George Washington (1732-1799) receiving the news of his election as the first U.S. president, 1789.]

  • #57. 1792: George Washington

    - Winner: George Washington (Federalist)
    --- Electoral votes received: 132 of 132 (100%)
    --- Popular votes received: 28,579 (100%)
    - Runner-up: No candidate
    - Voter turnout: 6.3%

    In 1792, Washington was unanimously reelected for a second term as president of the United States. The second election solidified the democratic idea that holding presidential elections every four years would be a long-running, regular feature of U.S. politics.

    [Pictured: Print (Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris) shows George Washington arriving at Congress Hall in Philadelphia on March 4, 1793.]

  • #56. 1820: James Monroe

    - Winner: James Monroe (Democratic-Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 231 of 232 (99.6%)
    --- Popular votes received: 87,343 (80.6%)
    - Runner-up: No candidate
    - Voter turnout: 10.1%

    The 1820 presidential election marked the third and essentially last time in which a candidate ran and won essentially unopposed. Incumbent Democratic-Republican president James Monroe and Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins were easily reelected with no major opponents.

    [Pictured: Portrait of James Monroe (White House copy of the 1819 painting by William Kloss).]

  • #55. 1936: Franklin Roosevelt vs. Alf Landon

    - Winner: Franklin Roosevelt (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 523 of 531 (98.5%)
    --- Popular votes received: 27,752,648 (60.8%)
    - Runner-up: Alf Landon (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 8 of 531 (1.5%)
    --- Popular votes received: 16,679,583 (36.5%)
    - Voter turnout: 61%

    The 1936 election took place well into the Great Depression, as Democratic incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt achieved a landslide victory over Republican candidate Alf Landon. It helped that the New Deal policies that Roosevelt had enacted so far had been highly successful. He went on to carry every state except Maine and Vermont.

    [Pictured: Roosevelt enters Wichita, Kansas, greeted by masses during the 1936 presidential campaign.]

  • #54. 1984: Ronald Reagan vs. Walter Mondale

    - Winner: Ronald Reagan (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 525 of 538 (97.6%)
    --- Popular votes received: 54,455,472 (58.8%)
    - Runner-up: Walter Mondale (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 13 of 538 (2.4%)
    --- Popular votes received: 37,577,185 (40.6%)
    - Voter turnout: 55.2%

    In 1984, incumbent Republican President Ronald Reagan defeated his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Walter Mondale, who only won in his home state of Minnesota. Reagan amassed 525 electoral votes—the largest landslide election in the nation’s history.

    [Pictured: President Ronald Reagan gives the "V for Victory" sign during a rally speech at the California State Capitol the day before the presidential election in 1984.]

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  • #53. 1972: Richard Nixon vs. George McGovern

    - Winner: Richard Nixon (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 520 of 538 (96.7%)
    --- Popular votes received: 47,168,710 (60.7%)
    - Runner-up: George McGovern (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 17 of 538 (3.2%)
    --- Popular votes received: 28,901,598 (37.5%)
    - Voter turnout: 56.2%

    Incumbent Republican President Richard Nixon overwhelmingly triumphed over Democratic candidate George McGovern in the 1972 election. Nixon won with a 23.2% margin of victory, one of the largest in election history. During this election cycle, the 26th Amendment’s ratification allowed 18-year-olds to vote.

    [Pictured: Washington: President Nixon and Vice President Agnew flash victory smiles as they appear at Republican election night headquarters in the Shoreham Hotel after the President won the reelection over George McGovern in a landslide in 1972.]

  • #52. 1804: Thomas Jefferson vs. Charles C. Pinckney

    - Winner: Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 162 of 176 (92.1%)
    --- Popular votes received: 104,110 (72.8%)
    - Runner-up: Charles C. Pinckney (Federalist)
    --- Electoral votes received: 14 of 176 (8%)
    --- Popular votes received: data not available
    - Voter turnout: 23.8%

    In the election of 1804, incumbent Democratic-Republican President Thomas Jefferson was victorious over his main adversary, Federalist candidate Cotesworth Pinckney. This was the first election following the ratification of the 12th Amendment, which put into law that electors must specify their votes for president and vice president, instead of only for president.

    [Pictured: Thomas Jefferson portrait by Rembrandt Peale, 1800.]

  • #51. 1864: Abraham Lincoln vs. George McClellan

    - Winner: Abraham Lincoln (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 212 of 233 (91%)
    --- Popular votes received: 2,211,317 (55%)
    - Runner-up: George McClellan (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 21 of 233 (9%)
    --- Popular votes received: 1,805,237 (45%)
    - Voter turnout: 76.3%

    Republican incumbent President Abraham Lincoln was reelected in 1864, triumphing over Democratic candidate George McClellan. Because the election took place during the Civil War, none of the states associated with the Confederate States of America cast their votes.

    [Pictured: Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and his vice-presidential running mate Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) of Tennessee, published by H.H. Lloyd & Company, NY, ca.1864.]

  • #50. 1980: Ronald Reagan vs. Jimmy Carter

    - Winner: Ronald Reagan (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 489 of 538 (90.9%)
    --- Popular votes received: 43,903,230 (50.8%)
    - Runner-up: Jimmy Carter (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 49 of 538 (9.1%)
    --- Popular votes received: 35,480,948 (41%)
    - Voter turnout: 54.2%

    Republican candidate Ronald Reagan achieved a landslide victory over incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980, receiving 489 electoral votes. This is the highest number of electoral votes won by a non-incumbent presidential candidate in history, and Reagan benefitted from the rising modern American conservative movement of the time.

    [Pictured: Ronald Reagan newspaper with election results, 1980.]

  • #49. 1964: Lyndon Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater

    - Winner: Lyndon Johnson (Democratic)
    --- Electoral votes received: 486 of 538 (90.3%)
    --- Popular votes received: 43,127,041 (61.1%)
    - Runner-up: Barry Goldwater (Republican)
    --- Electoral votes received: 52 of 538 (9.7%)
    --- Popular votes received: 27,146,969 (38.5%)
    - Voter turnout: 62.8%

    Incumbent Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson overwhelmingly defeated Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, receiving more than 90% of the electoral vote. The election established many influential political trends, like Democrats moving further to the left politically, and a major switch in Northern and Southern party loyalties.

    [Pictured: The New York Herald Tribune announces Lyndon Johnson's victory, 1964.]

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