Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Center for Politics & Public Affairs

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Vote Margins in Pennsylvania's Presidential Elections Since 1960

September 2000

Presidential elections in Pennsylvania are usually competitive.  In the ten elections since 1960, the margin of victory for the winning candidate averaged 9.4 percent.  That margin, however, is skewed by the 1964 and 1972 elections.  In 1964, Lyndon Johnson decimated Barry Goldwater in the state by 30 percentage points, while Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern by twenty points in 1972.  Remove these two races from the list, and the average margin of victory is just 5.5 percent.

One other dimension of Pennsylvanias presidential voting is worth mentioning.  When no incumbent has sought reelection, the average margin for the winner is only 2.8 percent.  In 1960, John Kennedy squeezed out a 2.4 percent win over Richard Nixon.  Hubert Humphrey won a close election over Richard Nixon in 1968 by 3.6 percent.  The closest non-incumbent race occurred in 1988, when George Bush narrowly defeated Michael Dukakis by 2.3 percent.  Interestingly, in each of these elections, a sitting vice president was the nominee.

One countervailing tendency to this tight election pattern was Bill Clintons sizable election victories in 1992 and 1996.  Clinton decisively beat both George Bush in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996 (9.0 and 9.2 percent, respectively).  What will happen this year: Will the 2000 election be more like the typical pattern since 1960 or more akin to the recent pattern of decisive Democratic victories?
 

Year Winner (Vote) Loser (Vote) All Parties
Total Vote
Winner % -
Loser %
1960 Kennedy (2,556,282) Nixon (2,439,956) 5,006,101 2.4
1964 Johnson (3,130,954) Goldwater (1,673,657) 4,822,690 30.2
1968 Humphrey (2,259,405) Nixon (2,090,017) 4,747,928 3.6
1972 Nixon (2,714,521) McGovern (1,796,951) 4,592,105 20.0
1976 Carter (2,328,677) Ford (2,205,604) 4,620,787 2.7
1980 Reagan (2,261,872) Carter (1,937,540) 4,562,131 7.1
1984 Reagan (2,584,323) Mondale (2,228,131) 4,844,903 7.3
1988 Bush (2,300,087) Dukakis (2,194,944) 4,536,251 2.3
1992 Clinton (2,239,164) Bush (1,791,841) 4,959,810 9.0
1996 Clinton (2,215,819) Dole (1,801,169) 4,500,307 9.2

Source for vote data: The Pennsylvania Manual, Volume 114, pp 7-95.

 

By:

G. Terry Madonna, Director
Center for Politics & Public Affairs
Millersville University

Berwood Yost, Director
Center for Opinion Research
Millersville University