How do You Interpret the Trump Transition Team Statement?

In their response to the CIA report about Russia’s possible involvement in the US Election of 2016, the Trump transition team issued a statement which read, in part:

“The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history.”

I don’t know how you interpret it, but I call bullshit. No, not whether one month is a “long time ago,” but whether it is truly one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. Let’s look at the electoral votes, ranked by number of votes. These are the elections from 1804 onward, and the data comes from the National Archives site, so, please don’t accuse me of taking fake data from some ultra-left-wing liberal web site.

RankYearWinnerVotesOut of
11984Ronald Reagan [R]525538
21936Franklin D. Roosevelt [D]523531
31972Richard M. Nixon [R]520538
41980Ronald Reagan [R]489538
51964Lyndon B. Johnson [D]486538
61932Franklin D. Roosevelt [D]472531
71956Dwight D. Eisenhower [R]457531
81940Franklin D. Roosevelt [D]449531
91928Herbert C. Hoover [R]444531
101952Dwight D. Eisenhower [R]442531
111912Woodrow Wilson [D]435531
121944Franklin D. Roosevelt [D]432531
131988George Bush [R]426538
141920Warren G. Harding [R]404531
151924Calvin Coolidge [R]382531
161996William J. Clinton [D]379538
171992William J. Clinton [D]370538
181904Theodore Roosevelt [R]336476
192012Barack Obama [D]332538
201908William H. Taft [R]321483
212016Donald J. Trump [R]306538
221948Harry S. Truman [D]303531
231960John F. Kennedy [D]303537
241968Richard M. Nixon [R]301538
251976Jimmy Carter [D]297538
261900William McKinley [R]292447
271872Ulysses S. Grant [R]286352
282004George W. Bush [R]286538
292008Barack Obama [D]286538
301892Grover Cleveland [D]277444
311916Woodrow Wilson [D]277531
321896William McKinley [R]271447
332000George W. Bush [R]271538
341852Franklin Pierce [D]254296
351840William Henry Harrison [W]234294
361888Benjamin Harrison [R]233401
371820James Monroe [D-R]231235
381832Andrew Jackson [D]219286
391884Grover Cleveland [D]219401
401868Ulysses S. Grant [R]214294
411880James Garfield [R]214369
421864Abraham Lincoln [R]212233
431876Rutherford B. Hayes [R]185369
441816James Monroe [D-R]183217
451860Abraham Lincoln [R]180303
461828Andrew Jackson [D]178261
471856James Buchanan [D]174296
481836Martin Van Buren [D]170294
491844James K. Polk [D]170275
501848Zachary Taylor [W]163290
511804Thomas Jefferson [D-R]162176
521812James Madison [D-R]128217
531808James Madison [D-R]122175
541824John Quincy Adams [Coalition]84261

As President-elect Trump might say, “Impressive! Historic!” But...only if you are looking at absolute number of votes. Take a look at the line with rank 34 (Franklin Pierce in 1852). He got almost all of the votes, but he couldn’t have gotten President-elect Trump’s 306 votes—because there were only 296 electoral votes possible!

So maybe, just maybe, absolute number of electoral votes is not the best way to rank the results. How about using the percentage of the total electoral vote that the winner got? That compensates for the problem of having differing numbers of electoral votes in different years (as the country’s population grew). Let’s look at the table again, ranked by percentage.

RankYearWinnerVotesOut ofPercent
11936Franklin D. Roosevelt [D]52353198.5%
21820James Monroe [D-R]23123598.3%
31984Ronald Reagan [R]52553897.6%
41972Richard M. Nixon [R]52053896.7%
51804Thomas Jefferson [D-R]16217692.0%
61864Abraham Lincoln [R]21223391.0%
71980Ronald Reagan [R]48953890.9%
81964Lyndon B. Johnson [D]48653890.3%
91932Franklin D. Roosevelt [D]47253188.9%
101956Dwight D. Eisenhower [R]45753186.1%
111852Franklin Pierce [D]25429685.8%
121940Franklin D. Roosevelt [D]44953184.6%
131816James Monroe [D-R]18321784.3%
141928Herbert C. Hoover [R]44453183.6%
151952Dwight D. Eisenhower [R]44253183.2%
161912Woodrow Wilson [D]43553181.9%
171944Franklin D. Roosevelt [D]43253181.4%
181872Ulysses S. Grant [R]28635281.2%
191840William Henry Harrison [W]23429479.6%
201988George Bush [R]42653879.2%
211832Andrew Jackson [D]21928676.6%
221920Warren G. Harding [R]40453176.1%
231868Ulysses S. Grant [R]21429472.8%
241924Calvin Coolidge [R]38253171.9%
251904Theodore Roosevelt [R]33647670.6%
261996William J. Clinton [D]37953870.4%
271808James Madison [D-R]12217569.7%
281992William J. Clinton [D]37053868.8%
291828Andrew Jackson [D]17826168.2%
301908William H. Taft [R]32148366.5%
311900William McKinley [R]29244765.3%
321892Grover Cleveland [D]27744462.4%
331844James K. Polk [D]17027561.8%
342012Barack Obama [D]33253861.7%
351896William McKinley [R]27144760.6%
361860Abraham Lincoln [R]18030359.4%
371812James Madison [D-R]12821759.0%
381856James Buchanan [D]17429658.8%
391888Benjamin Harrison [R]23340158.1%
401880James Garfield [R]21436958.0%
411836Martin Van Buren [D]17029457.8%
421948Harry S. Truman [D]30353157.1%
432016Donald J. Trump [R]30653856.9%
441960John F. Kennedy [D]30353756.4%
451848Zachary Taylor [W]16329056.2%
461968Richard M. Nixon [R]30153855.9%
471976Jimmy Carter [D]29753855.2%
481884Grover Cleveland [D]21940154.6%
492004George W. Bush [R]28653853.2%
502008Barack Obama [D]28653853.2%
511916Woodrow Wilson [D]27753152.2%
522000George W. Bush [R]27153850.4%
531876Rutherford B. Hayes [R]18536950.1%
541824John Quincy Adams [Coalition]8426132.2%

Not so impressive or historic any more, is it? It’s a lot closer to the bottom of the list than the top. So, Trump voters, how are you going to interpret the data?

  1. As absolute numbers, which give President-elect Trump the high placement.
  2. As percentages, which are a more accurate view of the data.
  3. It doesn’t matter. If President-elect Trump’s team says it’s “one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history,” then it must be so.

The cynic in me suspects you’re going to go for door number three.