President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t seem to like suggestions that his victory over Hillary Clinton was anything but HUGE.
Trump made false claims that Clinton’s lead in the popular vote was due to illegal voting.
He has chafed at recount efforts in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — even though such recounts pose no risk to Trump’s victory since he won those states by tens of thousands of votes.
And now, with a CIA assessment that Russian hacking during the campaign was part of an effort to swing the election Trump’s way, he’s hitting back hard at the intelligence agency — and renewing claims that his win was of historic proportions.
“We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College. I guess the final numbers are now at 306,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News Sunday.
A statement from his transition team on Friday in response to reports of the CIA assessment said, “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history.”
Trump also said in his Fox interview, “I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country.”
The Short Answer
Trump contends that the size of his victory was historic, which is not borne out by the results.
Trump won 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232. That comfortably puts him above the required 270 electoral votes. But it’s hard to argue this represents a landslide of historic proportions, given that out of 58 presidential elections, the winner has received more electoral votes in 37 contests.
The Long Answer
Trump’s win is historic, but mainly because it was so unexpected. He was outpaced by Hillary Clinton on nearly every conventional metric applied to how a successful campaign is run. Trump was counted out by nearly every political professional, and most of the media. Even his own campaign allies were expecting a loss. So the voters delivered a truly historic upset on Election Day. By that measure, Trump’s statement about “one of the greatest defeats” holds up.
Comparing Trump’s 306 electoral votes to recent history, he falls between the 2000 and 2004 razor-thin margins of George W. Bush, and Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012.
- 2000 — Bush 271, Gore 266
- 2004 — Bush 286, Kerry 251
- 2008 — Obama 365, McCain 173
- 2012 — Obama 332, Romney 206
- 2016 — Trump 306, Clinton 232
So on the historic score, Trump’s margin is pretty average for recent elections, and way down the list if you go all the way back to the beginning of the nation. Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, recently calculated the electoral college margins in all 58 U.S. presidential elections, and showed Trump coming in 46th.
Separately, there’s the question of whether Trump’s victory is a “landslide.” President Obama is sometimes said to have achieved “electoral landslides,” but that is even stretching historical standards.
Clear landslides came most recently in the 1980s. Ronald Reagan won 489 electoral votes to Jimmy Carter’s 49 in the 1980 election. Four years later, Reagan won 49 states, delivering him a 525 to 13 victory over Walter Mondale. In 1988, George H.W. Bush succeeded Reagan by amassing 426 electoral votes to Michael Dukakis’s 111.
Each of those Reagan and Bush victories came with an 8 to 9 percent margin in the popular vote, as icing on the cake.
To be certain, Trump’s win in the Electoral College is what matters. But his loss in the popular vote to Hillary Clinton is itself historic. At 2.8 million votes, Trump’s deficit is by far the largest for any candidate who won the Electoral College and lost the popular vote.
Election results sourced from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.