Editor’s note, 11/3/20: This article was last updated on November 8, 2016. For our most recent coverage of the US election, visit our 2020 election hub.
Maps are one of the most compelling ways to understand our nation’s political history. So in light of last night’s tumultuous election — which featured some unexpected state-level results — we’ve assembled a map for every presidential contest going back 56 years.
How has America’s political landscape changed over time? What were the biggest blowouts? And what new regional trends have emerged in the way we vote?
Let’s start by going back to 1960.
Kennedy edges out Nixon
In a very close election, John F. Kennedy edged out Richard Nixon by a mere 112,827 votes. Though Nixon won more states (26 to 22), Kennedy triumphed in Electoral College votes (303 to 219). This was, in part, a result of political strategy: Nixon campaigned in all 50 states, while Kennedy focused on swing states.
This election also featured the first televised debate, in which Nixon’s famously waxy, sweating face likely docked him public support.
American turns blue for Johnson
Following the assassination of President Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson took over as president.
In the 1964 election, he rode the wave of Kennedy’s popularity to earn 61.1 percent of the popular vote — the highest since 1820. He handily beat Barry Goldwater in electoral votes, 486 to 52, and carried 44 of 50 states (and Washington, DC).
Nixon wins — and Wallace takes five states
In a hectic election year — one following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., race riots, and Vietnam War protests — Richard Nixon promised to restore “law and order” to the country.
Though Nixon won the popular vote by less than 1 percent, he easily took the Electoral College, 301 votes to 191.
For the first time, many minorities — particularly across the South — were enfranchised, following the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The perceived “threat” of minorities gaining power contributed to George Wallace’s third-party dominance in the Deep South.
Nixon makes America red again
Nixon won the 1972 presidential contest by a landslide: He earned 60.7 percent of the popular vote and took 520 electoral votes to McGovern’s 16. This was the most lopsided defeat in modern history.
Notably, the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, made 1972 the first election in which people ages 18 to 20 could vote.
Carter and Ford split America down the middle
After both Nixon (Watergate scandal) and Spiro Agnew (bribes) resigned, Gerald Ford took the helm as POTUS.
Largely due to his pardon of Nixon, Ford was rattled by a lack of support from his fellow Republicans, and nearly lost the nomination to Ronald Reagan. Ultimately, Jimmy Carter — the relatively unknown former governor of Georgia — won the election with 297 electoral votes to Ford’s 240. The popular vote was closer still: 50.1 percent to 48 percent.
Reagan and Republicans dominate
Trumping up America’s high unemployment rate and inflation, Ronald Reagan defeated Carter by 489 electoral votes to 49 (popular vote: 50.7 percent to 41 percent).
For the first time in 25 years, Republicans also won control of the Senate.
This marked the beginning of the “Reagan era” — a “conservative realignment” in national politics.
Reagan dominates again
In one of the most striking election maps in modern history, Reagan carried 49 of 50 states, winning 525 of 538 electoral votes. Walter Mondale only managed to win Minnesota (his home state) and Washington, DC.
If we look at popular vote figures, Mondale fared much better, with 40.6 percent of the vote. But his platform was no match for Reagan’s, which was buoyed by a strong economic recovery and a new sense of national pride.
Bush handily defeats Dukakis
Incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush rode the coattails of Reagan’s popularity to a considerable victory (426 electoral votes to 111; 53.6 percent popular vote to 45.6). Since the 1988 election, no presidential candidate has won so authoritatively as Bush.
This election also marked the third victory in a row for Republicans — and the fifth in a row that put the state of California in the red.
Clinton wins; the Northeast goes super blue
The Democrats finally regained the presidency in 1992, with Bill Clinton’s victory. Clinton won 370 votes to Bush’s 168, and outranked Bush by 5.5 percentage points in the popular vote.
This election signified a regional shift in red-bue votes: The Northeastern, Upper Midwest, and West Coast states, from this election forward, began to vote Democrat.
Notably, third-party candidate Ross Perot drew 18.9 percent of the popular vote, finishing second in Maine and Utah (though he earned no electoral votes).
Clinton wins again, with similar results
During the previous 1994 midterm election, Clinton has lost Democratic control of both the House and Senate, and his chances of winning were forecast as slim.
Despite a record-low-turnout voting year (49 percent), Clinton won reelection over Bob Dole, 379 electoral votes to 159 — though Republicans kept control of Congress.
Bush reverts some of Middle America back to red
In one of the closest presidential races in US history, George W. Bush narrowly edged out incumbent Vice President Al Gore in Electoral College votes, 271 to 266.
For the first time in 112 years, the candidate who won (Bush) did not earn the popular vote: Gore’s 48.4 percent was higher than his 47.9 percent.
The closeness of the election resulted in a proposed recount of Florida votes. In a resulting, controversial Supreme Court case (Bush v. Gore), the state’s votes were awarded to Bush, and he won the election.
Bush is reelected by mostly the same states
On his foreign policy–heavy platform (see: the war on terror), Bush won reelection over Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Though he earned 286 electoral votes to Kerry’s 251, his popular vote, at 48.3 percent, was the smallest ever for a reelected president.
This map, as you’ll notice, is very similar to 2000’s: Only three states — New Mexico, Iowa, and New Hampshire — changed sides.
Obama commands the Northeast and West
After edging out Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and John McCain in the general election, Barack Obama became the first African-American POTUS in US history.
His victory was decisive: He not only took 365 of 538 electoral votes but also won 52.7 percent of the popular vote — the largest since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
In contrast with low voter turnout in previous years, Obama drew a record 69.5 million votes, leading to a 43 percent overall turnout for the general election.
Obama wins in slightly less commanding fashion
In a nearly identical result to 2012, Obama won reelection with 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 212.
On the map above, you’ll see that only two states — Indiana and North Carolina — differed from 2012’s results. Both pivoted from blue to red.
Leading up to election night, most polls placed Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning ahead of Donald Trump’s by 2-to-1 margins. The results told a dramatically different story.
This year’s map, which is still awaiting a final call in several states, is somewhat similar to the 2008 and 2012 maps, with several key differences. Like Romney, Trump commanded middle America and the South — but he also took Florida (29 votes) and a larger portion of Midwest states, including Iowa (6 votes), and Ohio (18 votes). Another key difference: Trump took Pennsylvania, and (most likely) Michigan — both states that have been blue since 1988.
Perhaps most astonishingly, Trump is likely to amass fewer total votes than Clinton, making him just the fourth president in US history (and first since Bush in 2000) to win the Electoral College without the popular vote.