Blogs > Ronald L. Feinman > Trump On Way to Worst Percentage Share of Vote by a Republican in a Two-Way Race Since Goldwater

Oct 9, 2020

Trump On Way to Worst Percentage Share of Vote by a Republican in a Two-Way Race Since Goldwater

tags: Donald Trump,2020 Election

Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, 2015).  A paperback edition is now available.



The Republican Party is in free fall by most estimates, a month out from the presidential and congressional Elections of 2020.  

The odds of Democrats gaining seats in the House of Representatives to add to their majority, and to win control of the US Senate, seem very high, based on state and national polls.

Donald Trump’s disastrous display at the Presidential debate in Cleveland, followed by his hospitalization with the COVID 19 virus (which has spread to many others in his orbit), has led to many estimates former Vice President Joe Biden is on the road to a major landslide, as early voting is already taking place in many states.

One must recall that six of the past seven presidential elections the Republicans have lost the national popular vote, with the exception of 2004.  And now, considering that Donald Trump has never had a legitimate poll show him with majority support (it has mostly been in the low 40s), and clearly there are Trump voters in 2016 now abandoning him by every estimate, it is possible Trump will win the lowest percentage of any Republican nominee since Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964.

If one examines the Republican Party history since it was founded in 1854, and first competed for the Presidency in 1856, there have been seven times when the party nominee gained less than 40 percent of the total national vote.

Four of those times the race involved more than two national candidates, as follows:

1856—John C. Fremont in a three way race won second place with 33.1 percent of the vote, with former President Millard Fillmore, running on the American (Know Nothing) Party line winning 21.5 percent of the vote, and Democrat James Buchanan winning the presidency.

1860---Abraham Lincoln won a four-way race with 39.8 percent of the vote, defeating John C. Breckinridge, Stephen A. Douglas and John Bell,  and taking the electoral vote of all Northern states, except for three electoral votes in New Jersey.

1912---William Howard Taft had the worst electoral performance of any incumbent President, ending up third out of four contenders, with 23.2 percent of the popular vote and only 8 electoral votes from Utah and Vermont, with Democrat Woodrow Wilson winning 40 states and 41.8 percent of the popular vote; third party Progressive nominee and former President Theodore Roosevelt winning 27.5 percent of the vote and six states; and Socialist Eugene Debs winning 6 percent of the popular vote, an all time high for any party with the name “Socialist” in its title.

1992---George H. W. Bush had the second-worst defeat of any incumbent president running for reelection, winning only 37.4 percent of the national popular vote and 18 states, with Democrat Bill Clinton winning 43 percent of the national popular vote and 32 states, and H. Ross Perot, who didn’t win any electoral votes, gaining 18.9 percent of the popular vote, the third-best showing for a third-party challenger after Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 and Millard Fillmore in 1856.

The other three times, Republicans lost in two person races, with Herbert Hoover losing to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 with only 39.7 percent of the popular vote and six states, Kansas Governor Alfred Landon losing to FDR in 1936 with only 36.5 percent of the popular vote and two states (Maine and Vermont), and Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona losing to Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, winning only 38.5 percent of the popular vote and six states.

There is a real possibility that Donald Trump will end up in the company of Hoover, Landon, and Goldwater by winning less than 40 percent of the national vote in a two-person race.  

And if Trump manages to win just over 40 percent, he will match the achievement of Kansas Senator Bob Dole, who lost a three way race to President Bill Clinton and H. Ross Perot in 1996, winning 40.73 percent of the national popular vote and 19 states, against Clinton’s 49.2 percent of the national popular vote and 31 states, and Perot’s zero states (but 8.4 percent of the popular vote).

In other words, it seems highly likely that Donald Trump will end up among the worst performing Republican Presidential candidates in history, and also the worst performing Presidents defeated for reelection, certainly better than William Howard Taft, but possibly in the same category as George H. W. Bush and Herbert Hoover.

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