The popular vote gap held by Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump surged past a stunning 2.2 million votes on Saturday, as President-elect Trump appeared set to enter the White House with the lowest percentage of votes won since the election of 1824 — an era when the way Americans selected their president was nearly unrecognizable compared to the system that exists today.
As votes continue to be counted nearly three weeks after the November 8 election, Clinton as of Sunday afternoon had won 64,654,445 votes nationwide, according to the latest totals compiled by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Trump had a total of 62,418,792. That’s a lead favoring Clinton of 2,235,653 votes. By comparison, when Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College and the presidency to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, Gore’s final popular vote gap was 543,816, a lead of 0.51 percentage points.
Clinton — with the vote count still ongoing — currently holds a lead over Trump of 1.7 percentage points.
That lead, which is expected to grow, is already the second-largest lead by a candidate who lost the Electoral College since the election of 1876. But that election was not comparable to circumstances that exist today. While voter suppression is considered a serious problem largely affecting minority voters today, in 1876 the Ku Klux Klan used unrestrained violence and terror to punish southern blacks who dared try to go to the polls.
Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the 1876 election over Democrat Samuel Tilden despite losing the popular vote by three percentage points in a heavily disputed election with widespread claims of vote-rigging. To grab the electoral votes he needed, Hayes struck a deal to end the post-slavery Reconstruction program, allowing southern states to put in place a system of severe racial discrimination known as “Jim Crow” that lasted until Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1965.
Following the Electoral College balloting on December 19 when he is set to win 306 votes and the presidency, Trump will enter the White House with the lowest percentage of the popular vote of any winning candidate in the era of the Democrat-Republican two party system.
While in 1876 Hayes was credited with winning 47.9 percent of the popular vote, Trump has already sunk to just 46.5 percent — and that number is expected to shrink by the time all votes are finally counted.
Responding angrily to recount efforts in three states where he won by razor-thin margins, Trump on Saturday issued a statement declaring, “The people have spoken and the election is over.”
But if “the people” spoke, it was clearly to reject Trump. Not only was he losing to Clinton by 1.7 points as of Saturday, with the 7,190,133 votes for “third party” and write-in candidates added in, more than 9.4 million more people voted for a candidate who was not Trump than the number who voted for him.
In fact, no elected president since John Quincy Adams — the sixth president of the United States — in 1824 has won a lower percentage of the vote than Trump. But the popular vote was considered so unimportant in the early days of the country that 1824 was the first presidential election in which officials bothered to record the popular vote at all.
There were four candidates in the 1824 race, all from the same party — the “Democrat-Republican” party — and Adams finished second, losing to Andrew Jackson by 44,804 votes and 10.4 points. Of course, neither women nor blacks had the legal right to vote in 1824.
Adams won just 30.9 percent of the popular vote, which totaled only 350,670 altogether. The differences between 1824, 1876 and 2016 render Trump’s percentage of the popular vote an unprecedented low for an American president.
[CORRECTION: In 1992, Bill Clinton won the popular vote, but garnered only 43 percent, due to independent candidate Ross Perot claiming 19 percent.]
[Featured Image By Scott Eisen/Getty Images]