Here’s a list of the top ten popular vote winners in U.S. presidential history (by thousands of votes):
Update: I accidentally forgot to include Mitt Romney, so this is now a Top 11 list and the rest of the post is amended to reflect my error.
- 1. 2008- Barack Obama- 69,499
2. 2012- Barack Obama- 65,916
3. 2004- George W. Bush- 62,041
4. 2012- Mitt Romney- 60,934
5. 2008- John McCain- 59,948
6. 2016- Hillary Clinton- 59,938
7. 2016- Donald Trump- 59,705
8. 2004- John Kerry- 59,028
9. 1984- Ronald Reagan- 54,455
10. 2000- Al Gore- 51,000
11. 2000- George W. Bush- 50,456
A few notes: If she hasn’t already, Clinton will eventually pass John McCain and be in fifth place on this list. Obviously, the list is biased in favor of participants in the most recent elections since population growth has been constant. That’s why the ten out of eleven are from the last four presidential elections.
Still, Al Gore is listed higher than his 2000 opponent and Donald Trump is listed higher than his 2016 opponent. Coming in in seventh place is even less impressive for Trump when you realize that he ran in the election with the largest population. He got fewer votes than John McCain did eight years ago in an election where McCain only pulled a little over forty-five percent. He barely got more votes than John Kerry did twelve years ago in a losing effort.
In the end, Clinton will receive more votes than anyone except Barack Obama, George W. Bush in 2004, and Mitt Romney in 2008, and yet she won’t become president. Donald Trump will be behind not only his opponent but John McCain and Sarah Palin.
In most ways, none of this matters. Candidates don’t vie to win the popular vote. If they did, they would campaign in different states and their ads would be different and placed in different media markets. They’d possibly pick different running mates and adopt modified policies. They run to win the Electoral College, and that is how they should be judged. They also don’t run against candidates from prior or future elections. A win is a win.
But, as we begin to look at just how consequential this election will be, it’s important to have some perspective about how much support there is for the changes that are coming. Consider this:
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chaired Trump’s campaign in Texas, said the businessman’s victory allows state Republicans to “move forward with boldness and confidence,” finally free to push conservative legislation without having to worry about Washington undermining it.
“The fact we’re going to have a rock-solid conservative on the Supreme Court, and maybe two or three more before his term ends, and the fact that we’re not going to have the EPA on our back, the Justice Department on our back, all the money and the energy and the time that we spent suing the federal government, Abbott and Paxton — that’s all gone,” Patrick said in an interview with The Texas Tribune.
“And so that allows us to say, ‘You know what? We’re willing to make the — whatever it takes to fight to get the votes to pass solid conservative legislation, and we’re going to have a White House that supports it, a Justice Department that supports it.’”
One example? Voter ID. Texas lawmakers are under a court order to fix the state’s tough voter ID law when they meet again in January in Austin. The likelihood that the fix is “not going to be overturned by the Justice Department or the White House is in itself so freeing,” Patrick said, calling it a “brand new day for legislators” not just in Texas but across the country.
In a sign of both strength and weakness, Clinton actually ran stronger in Texas (43%) than she did in Iowa (42%), and almost as strong as she did in Ohio (44%). But more than that, fewer people voted for his vague platform than voted against it. What percentage voted for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s vision of widespread minority disenfranchisement and an absolutely gutted Environmental Protection Agency at a time of critical climate change?
The freedom Trump and the Republicans have to make radical sweeping and (often) unpopular changes to our country is way out of proportion to what the voters said.
Now, that’s going to create a backlash, no doubt, but it should also be a least a small source of strength for those who are intent on resisting these changes in Congress and in state legislatures.