Hillary Clinton's Lead Is Greater Than Multiple Former Presidents'

It’s a reminder to her supporters that more Americans voted the way they did than voted for her opponent.

Clinton at a rally in Detroit, Michigan, earlier this month (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)

Here’s a talking point for Hillary Clinton supporters as they prepare for intrafamily political battles around the turkey this year: Her count in the popular vote continues to best Donald Trump’s—and her lead is on par with other former presidential nominees who actually won the White House.

As my colleague Andrew McGill wrote earlier this month, absentee and provisional votes are still being counted, now more than two weeks after Election Day. This is standard: Certain states have more liberal voting laws than others, with ballots in some spots coming in days after the polls close. As of press time, Clinton has over 2 million more votes than Donald Trump, a margin of 1.5 percentage points. This is despite the difference in the Electoral College, where Trump has a winning 306 votes to Clinton’s 232.

Clinton’s and Trump’s totals will continue to grow as authorities work through the ballots, the bulk of which are coming from blue states and thus won’t change the election. The counting process will wrap up by the time the Electoral College votes on December 19, said David Wasserman, an editor at The Cook Political Report, which is tracking the count. Wasserman has predicted that when all the votes are tallied, Clinton could be ahead of Trump by approximately 2 percentage points. It could be a little over or a little under, but “I’m confident it’ll ultimately round to 2,” he told me.

But even Clinton’s current lead is noteworthy—or personally painful, depending on one’s political leanings. That’s because multiple candidates in American history have been elected president with far smaller margins than hers in the popular vote. According to figures from the Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections—and as alluded to by one Atlantic reader—they include:

James Garfield in 1880: 0.09 percentage points

John F. Kennedy in 1960: 0.17 percentage points

Grover Cleveland in 1884: 0.57 percentage points

Richard Nixon in 1968: 0.7 percentage points

James Polk in 1844: 1.45 percentage points

If the final vote count does, indeed, put her roughly 2 percentage points ahead of Trump, her margin would edge up against those of winning presidential nominees Jimmy Carter in 1976 (2.07 percentage points) and George W. Bush in 2004 (2.47 percentage points). And all this is not to mention the presidents who’ve been elected without winning the popular vote at all. That’s a list that includes Bush in 2000, and will soon include Trump. As my colleague Ronald Brownstein put it, Trump “is on track to lose the popular vote by more than any successfully elected president ever.”

In recent days, Clinton’s burgeoning lead has reinvigorated debate about the fairness of the Electoral College in a manner perhaps unseen since the 2000 election. Some Democrats are still stinging from that loss, when a recount in Florida and a subsequent Supreme Court decision kept voters without a president-elect until early December. Some advocates want to do away with the Electoral College entirely, while others want to reform it so that electors are bound to the national popular vote.

For Clinton supporters, her lead may be a small comfort—a reminder that more Americans voted the way they did than voted for her opponent. But then again, when the stakes are as high as a presidential election, a small comfort may be no comfort at all. And with the vote count headed for completion in December, arguments over which candidate deserves the presidency could easily pick up where they left off around the holiday table.