How Slim Margins Decide So Many Presidential Elections And Affect American History And Government Policies!

The argument that many ill informed people have is that “voting does not matter”, when just the opposite is true.

As we begin 2017 and the reality of President Trump in 19 days, a look at history tells us clearly how small numbers of votes or percentages of votes make a dramatic difference, as demonstrated in the following elections in American history:

1844– a switch of a few thousand votes in New York would have given the election to Henry Clay, instead of James K. Polk, and the difference was the small third party, the Liberty Party.

1848–a switch of a few thousand votes, again in New York, would have given the election to Lewis Cass, instead of Zachary Taylor, but Free Soil Party nominee, Martin Van Buren, former Democratic President and from New York, won ten percent of the total national vote, and threw the election to Whig candidate Taylor in New York.

1876—the dispute over the contested votes of South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida led to a special Electoral Commission set up, which rewarded all of those three states’ electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes, although Democrat Samuel Tilden led nationally by about 250,000 popular votes.

1880–James A. Garfield won the popular vote by the smallest margin ever, about 2,000 votes, and won the big state of New York by only 20,000 votes, in defeating his opponent Winfield Scott Hancock.

1884–Grover Cleveland won his home state of New York by about 1,000 votes, which decided the election, and nationally only by about 57,000 votes over James G. Blaine.

1888–Grover Cleveland won the national popular vote by about 90,000, but lost in close races in his home state of New York and opponent Benjamin Harrison’s home state of Indiana, so lost the Electoral College, as Harrison became President. The Harrison lead in New York was less than 14,000 votes and in Indiana, less than 2,000.

1916—Woodrow Wilson won California by less than 4,000 votes, but enough to elect him to the White House over Republican Charles Evans Hughes.

1948–Harry Truman won three states by less than one percent–Ohio, California and Illinois–over Thomas E. Dewey, and that decided the election.

1960–John F. Kennedy won Illinois by about 8,000 votes; Texas by about 46,000 votes; and Hawaii by under 200 votes, and only had a two tenths of one percentage point popular vote victory nationally, about 112,000 votes, over Richard Nixon.

1976–Jimmy Carter won over Gerald Ford by two percentage points, but a switch of 5,600 votes in Ohio and 3,700 votes in Hawaii would have given the election to Ford.

2000—Al Gore lost Florida by 537 votes, in the final judgment of the Supreme Court, which intervened in the election, and had he won Florida, he would have been elected President, even though he won the national popular vote by about 540,000. Bush also won New Hampshire by only about 7,000 votes, but won the Electoral College 271-266.

2016–Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by about 2.85 million, but lost the crucial states of Michigan by about 10,000; Wisconsin by about 22,000; and Pennsylvania by about 46,000, to Donald Trump, so together about 79,000 votes decided the Electoral College.

So the idea that voting is not important, does not matter, is proved wrong so many times in American history! Every vote does indeed count, and has long range implications on who sits in the White House, and what policies are pursued, which affect all of us!

3 comments on “How Slim Margins Decide So Many Presidential Elections And Affect American History And Government Policies!

  1. D January 3, 2017 9:31 am


    I have a long response which I will submit in two parts.…

    These close elections were, with the majority, party-switching United States presidential elections outcomes.

    • 1844—Democratic pickup

    • 1848—Whig pickup

    • 1876—Republican hold of the presidency; Democratic pickup of the U.S. Popular Vote

    • 1880—Republican hold of the presidency; Republican pickup of the U.S. Popular Vote

    • 1884—Democratic pickup

    • 1916—Democratic hold

    • 1948—Democratic hold

    • 1960—Democratic pickup

    • 1976—Democratic pickup

    • 2000—Republican pickup; Democratic hold of the U.S. Popular Vote

    • 2016—Republican pickup; Democratic hold of the U.S. Popular Vote

    Where to begin?

    Let’s talk about all those pickups. Typically, what happens is that the incumbent White House party (whether it’s an incumbent president getting unseated or a term-limited one whose would-be successor does not hold the presidency), is that the pickup winner from the opposition party does three things: hold all states his party’s losing nominee carried with the previous presidential election cycle; shift the U.S. Popular Vote margin, from the previous cycle, in his (and his party’s) direction; flip a sufficient number of states (and their electoral votes) to string together a prevailing electoral map with winning a party pickup of the presidency. This was applicable to: 1844 Democratic pickup winner James Polk; 1976 Democratic pickup winner Jimmy Carter; 2000 Republican pickup winner George W. Bush; and 2016 Republican pickup winner Donald Trump. It was not the case with 1848 Whig pickup winner Zachary Taylor (who saw Ohio flip Democratic to Lewis Cass of neighboring Michigan) and 1884 Democratic pickup winner Grover Cleveland (who saw, as examples, California and Nevada flip Republican to James Blaine). When you think of pickup winners from the past four decades—1980 Republican pickup winner Ronald Reagan; 1992 Democratic pickup winner Bill Clinton; 2008 Democratic pickup winner Barack Obama (in addition to the above-mentioned Republican pickup winners of 2000 and 2016, George W. Bush and Donald Trump)—the same thing happened.

    The state of New York is mentioned frequently. I posted a list of states which have historically carried for presidential winners since each one first participated. From 1789–2016, the nation has had 58 presidential election cycles. New York first voted in the second, 1792. There have been 11 in which the state of New York did not vote with the winner: 1812 (home-state nominee DeWitt Clinton); 1856 (John Fremont); 1868 home-state nominee Horatio Seymour); *1876 (home-state nominee Samuel Tilden); 1916 (home-state nominee Charles Evans Hughes); 1948 (home-state nominee Thomas Dewey); 1968 (Hubert Humphey); 1988 (Michael Dukakis); *2000 (Al Gore); 2004 (John Kerry); and *2016 (home state of both major-party nominees and carried by Hillary Clinton). But, to score reliability rates in carrying for winners, there were three presidential elections in which New York sided with the popular-vote winner: 1876, 2000, and 2016 are indicated above with an asterisk. (The other two historical occurrences of a U.S. Popular Vote winner not winning the presidency were in 1824 and 1888.) By my score, allowing a half-point in credit to states which voted with popular-vote winners (while all others get full credit), the state of New York has voted with winner 47.5 of 57 participating United States presidential elections. That is 83.33 percent. And it is tied with Ohio and California for ranking at No. 3. See my posted response at the following (“The Cycle Theory Of American History Again In Play,” December 12, 2016): .

    From these elections, the state of New York was the home state of a number of these candidates in those consequential elections. It was the No. 1 most-populous state from the 1810s to the 1960s. It became supplanted by California over 150 years later. The United States presidential election of 1972 was the first in which New York no longer had the most electoral votes. And from these cited elections, but not listing them all, here was the impact from the state of New York.

    • 1844—James Polk won a Democratic pickup of the U.S. Popular Vote by +1.45 percentage points. He defeated Whig nominee Henry Clay 170 to 105 electoral votes. Polk’s Democratic pickup of New York was by +1.05, a spread between New York and the nation by just 0.40 percentage points.

    • 1848—Zachary Taylor won a Whig pickup of the presidency by +4.79 percentage points. But, New York was no bellwether. Tennessee, in the column for Taylor, was +5.04, a spread of 0.25 points from the national. This was an election in which former president Martin Van Buren, with New York his home state, had impact. Taylor won a Whig pickup of New York over not Lewis Cass but Martin Van Buren. Margin spread in that state was Taylor +21.51 points. (Taylor received 47.94 to Van Buren’s 26.43 and Cass’s 25.07 percent. The real contest in 1848 New York was for second place.)

    • 1876—Although New York wasn’t cited by Ronald, 19th president of the United States Rutherford Hayes won a Republican hold of the presidency with 185 electoral votes to Democratic challenger Samuel Tilden’s 184. Tilden won a Democratic pickup of the U.S. Popular Vote by +3.00 and won a Democratic pickup of his home state New York by +3.23, a spread between New York and the nation by just 0.23 percentage points.

    • 1880—James Garfield did win a Republican hold of the presidency, yes, but he won a Republican pickup of the U.S. Popular Vote. New York was a Republican pickup state for Garfield. He flipped the U.S. Popular Vote by +0.09 and likewise flipped New York by +1.90, a spread of 1.81 percentage points.

    • 1884—Grover Cleveland, the 28th Governor of New York and who would become the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, won a Democratic pickup of the presidency by a U.S. Popular Vote margin of +0.57 over losing Republican James Blaine. (It was Cleveland 48.85 to Blaine 48.28 percent.) New York’s likewise Democratic pickup to Cleveland was a margin of +0.10, a spread between New York and the national of just 0.47 percentage points.

    • 1888—Benjamin Harrison won a Republican pickup of the presidency, while having unseated Democratic president Grover Cleveland who, despite Harrison’s efforts, held the U.S. Popular Vote in the Democratic column. The 1884-to-1888 popular-vote margin increased by 0.36 for Cleveland. In 1884, he won by +0.47. In 1988, he won by +0.83. But, Cleveland lost his home state, New York, to Harrison. Harrison’s pickup of New York was by +0.91. The 1884-to-1888 Republican shift of New York was 1.01 percentage points—and this gives an example why, when a president seeks re-election (whether or not he wins), a gain in the U.S. Popular Vote (which is common) doesn’t assure increases in all states, including one’s home state.

    During this period, the state of New York was highly critical for presidential candidates with the U.S. Popular Vote and/or Electoral College. It was a major bellwether state.

  2. D January 3, 2017 9:31 am


    Ronald did not cite 1916 and 1948 for New York. This was the home state of the losing Republican challengers, Charles Evans Hughes and its 47th governor Thomas Dewey, in prevailing Democratic elections.

    What happened in those elections was that Hughes and Dewey, in their efforts to unseat Democratic presidents Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman, did not hold all states which carried for the losing 1912 and 1944 Republicans, an unseated William Howard Taft and Thomas Dewey himself. Utah was one of just two states in the column for the disastrously unseated Taft. It flipped Democratic for the 1916 re-election of Wilson. Dewey, who had Ohio governor John Bricker as his running mate in 1944, won a Republican pickup of Ohio but saw Truman flip it back to the Democratic column for 1948—along with 1944 Republican-to-1948 Democratic pickups with Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

    California, mentioned by Ronald with both 1916 and 1948, voted with the winners of all 25 of the 1900–1996 presidential elections with exceptions of 1912, 1960, and 1976; the first two had a native Californian on a losing party ticket which, no less, carried the state of California. Wilson’s carriage of California, in 1916, counted as a Progressive-to-Democratic pickup—which, for Republican Charles Evans Hughes, was bad news because he was the one who should have had California in his column if he was going to unseat Wilson. Up to that point, California carried for all winning Republicans except for a 1880 James Garfield. (The state of Washington was also a 1912 Progressive-to-1916 Democratic pickup.) Wilson was re-elected with carriage of the U.S. Popular Vote by +3.14 and his pickup of California was +0.38, a spread between California and the nation of 2.76 percentage points.

    As for mentioning a 1960 Illinois and a 2000 Florida—they were bellwethers for their time. (Florida still is—it has been within five points from national margins.) 1960 Democratic pickup winner John Kennedy took 1956’s re-elected Republican Dwight Eisenhower’s +15.40 percentage points, in the U.S. Popular Vote, and shifted 15.57 to win a Democratic pickup by +0.17. Kennedy won a Democratic pickup of Illinois by +0.18, a spread between Illinois and the nation of just 0.01 percentage points. 2000 Republican pickup winner George W. Bush shifted 1996’s re-elected Democratic president Bill Clinton’s +8.52, in the U.S. Popular Vote, by 8.00. Bush Jr. did not win a Republican pickup of the U.S. Popular Vote. But he did take the 19 states from losing 1996 Republican Bob Dole’s column, worth 159 electoral votes, and flipped 11 states, worth 112 electoral votes, including Florida. Bush’s margin in the U.S. Popular Vote was –0.52. His pickup of Florida was +0.01. The spread between Florida and the nation was 0.53 percentage points.

    In 2016, Donald Trump’s Republican pickup of the presidency marked the second consecutive occurrence by the party—in which the White House flips from Team Blue to Team Red—of not sufficiently shifting the nation to win a party pickup of the U.S. Popular Vote. 2012’s re-elected Democratic president, Barack Obama, won by +3.86. Trump shifted 1.77 of that amount to come up short by –2.09. Like with 2000’s George W. Bush, you have to take a state count on how many states shifted sufficiently (Bush needed +8.53; Trump needed +3.87) to be able to flip the popular vote with a minimum +0.01. Bush was able to get 26 states to shift sufficiently. Trump was able to get 25 states to shift to the level he needed. Those a stark contrasts to the likes of 1980 Republican pickup winner Ronald Reagan (who needed +2.07 and reached in 46 states), 1992 Democratic pickup winner Bill Clinton (who needed +7.73 and reached in 41 states), and 2008 Democratic pickup winner Barack Obama (who needed +2.47 and reached in 43 states). The specific 26 states in which Bush Jr. sufficiently reached added up to just 162 electoral votes. The specific 25 states in which Trump sufficiently reached added up to 210 electoral votes. And they both illustrated that the U.S. Popular Vote and Electoral College cannot be guaranteed to align to the same person. In most cases they do. “Most” is not all. In both Bush’s and Trump’s cases, they were able to figure the system with specific strategies on which states to flip. I previously posted why there was the split outcome here in 2016. And I will refer anyone wanting to look at it, who may not have read it, here (“79,829–Number That Prevented Hillary Clinton From Winning Presidency!,” December 1, 2016): .

    Here, I want to note more about the shifts of 2012 to 2016.

    2012 U.S. Popular Vote
    • Mitt Romney (R) | 60,934,407 | 206 electoral votes | 47.15%
    • Barack Obama (D) | 65,918,507 | 332 electoral votes | 51.01%
    • Margin: Obama +4,984,100 (+3.86)

    2016 U.S. Popular Vote
    • Donald Trump (R) | 62,979,636 | 306 initial electoral votes | 45.96%
    • Hillary Clinton (D) | 65,844,610 | 232 initial electoral votes | 48.05%
    • Margin: Clinton +2,865,075 (+2.09)
    • Shift (2012 to 2016): Trump +2,119,075 (R+1.77)

    2012 Ohio — 18 electoral votes
    • Mitt Romney (R) | 2,661,437 | 47.60%
    • Barack Obama (D) | 2,827,709 | 50.58%
    • Margin: Obama +166,272 (+2.98)

    2016 Ohio — 18 electoral votes
    • Donald Trump (R) | 2,841,005 | 51.31% — Pickup!
    • Hillary Clinton (D) | 2,394,164 | 43.24%
    • Margin: Trump +446,841 (+8.07)
    • Shift (2012 to 2016): Trump +613,113 (R+11.05) —Sufficient

    2012 Michigan — 16 electoral votes
    • Mitt Romney (R) | 2,115,256 | 44.58%
    • Barack Obama (D) | 2,564,569 | 54.04%
    • Margin: Obama +449,313 (+9.46)

    2016 Michigan — 16 electoral votes
    • Donald Trump (R) | 2,279,543 | 47.26% — Pickup!
    • Hillary Clinton (D) | 2,268,839 | 47.04%
    • Margin: Trump +10,704 (+0.23)
    • Shift (2012 to 2016): Trump +460,017 (R+9.69) — Sufficient

    2012 Pennsylvania — 20 electoral votes
    • Mitt Romney (R) | 2,680,434 | 46.57%
    • Barack Obama (D) | 2,990,274 | 51.95%
    • Margin: Obama +309,840 (+5.38)

    2016 Pennsylvania — 20 electoral votes
    • Donald Trump (R) | 2,970,733 | 48.20% — Pickup!
    • Hillary Clinton (D) | 2,926,441 | 47.48%
    • Margin: Trump +44,292 (+0.72)
    • Shift (2012 to 2016): Trump +354,132 (R+6.10) — Sufficient

    2012 Wisconsin — 10 electoral votes
    • Mitt Romney (R) | 1,407,966 | 45.89%
    • Barack Obama (D) | 1,620,985 | 52.83%
    • Margin: Obama +213,019 (+6.94)

    2016 Wisconsin — 10 electoral votes
    • Donald Trump (R) | 1,405,284 | 47.22% — Pickup!
    • Hillary Clinton (D) | 1,382,536 | 46.45%
    • Margin: Trump +22,748 (+0.77)
    • Shift (2012 to 2016): Trump +235,767 (+7.71) — Sufficient


    2012 to 2016: Ohio/Michigan/Pennsylvania/Wisconsin
    • 2012: Obama +1,138,444
    • 2016: Trump +524,585 — Pickups!
    • Shifts (2012 to 2016): Trump +1,663,029 — Pickups!

    Shifts (2012 to 2016): Ohio/Michigan/Pennsylvania/Wisconsin vs. U.S. Popular Vote
    • Ohio/Michigan/Pennsylvania/Wisconsin: Trump +1,663,029 — Pickups!
    • U.S. Popular Vote [shift]: Trump +2,119,075
    • Percentage from those flipped states (vs. national shift) for Republican pickup winner Donald Trump: 78.48%

    CONCLUSION: Trump started with Romney’s 206 electoral votes. He flipped six states, and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, worth 100 electoral votes to finish with an initial 306 electoral votes. (Faithless electors have me using the word “initial.”) These four states comprise the 64 electoral votes Donald Trump needed to win a Republican pickup of the presidency with the minimum 270 electoral votes. They, before also counting likewise Republican pickups from Florida, Iowa, and Maine #02, were Trump’s path to victory. Donald Trump won the 2016 United States presidential election primarily through the Rust Belt.

  3. Ronald January 3, 2017 10:19 am

    As usual, D, you came through with exhausting, but fascinating detail, and again, all of us who read this blog with to thank you, profusely, for your efforts! 🙂

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