The Greatest Electoral College Victories
I have tried to stay out of the recent political turmoil. More turmoil will add little, but the recent statement referring to this election’s Electoral College victory as an “electoral landslide” has prompted me to write. This will be about history, not about politics.
The victory, while unexpected, is not a landslide. The Electoral College numbers are: 304 to 227 or 56.51%. This does beat John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush on both of Mr. Bush’s wins (56.42%, 55.20%, and 53.16% and 50.14% respectively) among others. To round out the close races, it is worth noting that Thomas Jefferson was tied in the Electoral College with Aaron Burr in 1800 due to a peculiarity in its structure at the time which didn’t distinguish between votes cast for president and vice president. This flaw was promptly corrected. Also noteworthy is John Quincy Adams who actually became president after losing in the Electoral College in 1824. He received only 32.18% or 84 of 261 votes cast, while Andrew Jackson beat him receiving 99 votes (37.93%), but still less than a majority. Other candidates shared the rest. Both of these contests went to the House of Representatives to decide the outcome as is directed by the Constitution in the event that no candidate is given a majority.
As for truly remarkable victories, the upset of record must, I feel, still go to Truman’s victory over Dewey in 1948. Every poll predicted a landslide for Dewey and the Chicago Daily Tribune even announced Dewey’s victory on its front page. This faux pas was made iconic by Mr. Truman himself when he was photographed holding the headline high above a cheering crowd after his victory. That upset was numerically slightly better than the current election. Truman received 57.06% of the votes or 303 to 189. For all time victories, of course, no one has challenged the other President George, Washington that is. He received all the electoral votes in each of his elections. He had no opponents of course. James Monroe was the only one to come close, receiving all but one Electoral College vote: 232 of 231 cast, or 99.57% in the 1820 election, his second run. He also ran unopposed in this contest, the last president to do so. The Federalist Party did field a vice-presidential candidate, Richard Stockton, but was unable to find anyone to run against Monroe for the top spot. The Federalist Party never participated in a nation election again. The single vote against Monroe was cast for John Quincy Adams, to Adams’ embarrassment. It has been suggested that it was cast to prevent Monroe from matching Washington’s feat. William Plumer, an elector from New Hampshire, cast the only vote against Monroe and he always maintained that he simply liked Mr. Adams and thought he would be a good president. Adams achieved that office four years later as noted above in an election that proved to be far more contentious.
For the remainder of the elections some notables are worthy of mention. Franklin Roosevelt received 98.49% of the votes cast in the 1936 Electoral College to take third place behind Washington and Monroe. Ronald Raegan was given 97.58% of the Electoral College votes in his second run (1984) putting him just behind FDR and making him the fourth place winner. In recent elections Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and Barack Obama all beat the current election’s margin of victory; all three achieved this in all of their electoral runs.
I cannot close, however, without mentioning the victor with the fifth best finish. He won 96.65% of the Electoral College votes, 520 to 17, with only Massachusetts and Washington D. C. casting votes for his opponent. The 1972 election was a true landslide for Richard Nixon, but alas he is far more famous for resigning from that term in office rather than face impeachment and almost certain conviction for High Crimes and Misdemeanors. Winning in the Electoral College does not always precedent a winning presidency I’m afraid.