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Distribution of votes in the 2016 U.S. presidential election

Published by Aaron O'Neill,
The 2016 U.S. presidential election was contested by Donald J. Trump of the Republican Party, and Hillary Rodham Clinton of the Democratic Party. Clinton had been viewed by many as the most likely to succeed President Obama in the years leading up to the election, after losing the Democratic nomination to him in 2008, and entered the primaries as the firm favorite. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders soon emerged as Clinton's closest rival, and the popularity margins decreased going into the primaries. A few other candidates had put their name forward for the Democratic nomination, however all except Clinton and Sanders had dropped out by the New Hampshire primary. Following a hotly contested race, Clinton arrived at the Democratic National Convention with 54 percent of pledged delegates, while Sanders had 46 percent. Controversy emerged when it was revealed that Clinton received the support of 78 percent of Democratic superdelegates, while Sanders received just seven percent. With her victory, Hillary Clinton became the first female candidate nominated by a major party for the presidency. With seventeen potential presidential nominees, the Republican primary field was the largest in US history. Similarly to the Democratic race however, the number of candidates thinned out by the time of the New Hampshire primary, with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz as the frontrunners. As the primaries progressed, Trump pulled ahead while the remainder of the candidates withdrew from the race, and he was named as the Republican candidate in May 2016. Much of Trump's success has been attributed to the free media attention he received due to his outspoken and controversial behavior, with a 2018 study claiming that Trump received approximately two billion dollars worth of free coverage during the primaries alone.


The 2016 presidential election was preceded by, arguably, the most internationally covered and scandal-driven campaign in U.S. history. Clinton campaigned on the improvement and expansion of President Obama's more popular policies, while Trump's campaign was based on his personality and charisma, and took a different direction than the traditional conservative, Republican approach. In the months before the election, Trump came to represent a change in how the U.S. government worked, using catchy slogans such as "drain the swamp" to show how he would fix what many viewed to be a broken establishment; painting Clinton as the embodiment of this establishment, due to her experience as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. The candidates also had fraught relationships with the press, although the Trump campaign was seen to have benefitted more from this publicity than Clinton's.


Trump's off the cuff and controversial remarks gained him many followers throughout the campaign, however, just one month before the election, a 2005 video emerged of Trump making derogatory comments about grabbing women "by the pussy". The media and public's reaction caused many high-profile Republicans to condemn the comments (for which he apologized), with many calling for his withdrawal from the race. This controversy was soon overshadowed when it emerged that the FBI was investigating Hillary Clinton for using a private email server while handling classified information, furthering Trump's narrative that the Washington establishment was corrupt. Two days before the election, the FBI concluded that Clinton had not done anything wrong; however the investigation had already damaged the public's perception of Clinton's trustworthiness, and deflected many undecided voters towards Trump.


Against the majority of predictions, Donald Trump won the 2016 election, and became the 45th President of the United States. Clinton won almost three million more votes than her opponent, however Trump's strong performance in swing states gave him a 57 percent share of the electoral votes, while Clinton took just 42 percent. The unpopularity of both candidates also contributed to much voter abstention, and almost six percent of the popular vote went to third party candidates (despite their poor approval ratings). An unprecedented number of faithless electors also refused to give their electoral votes to the two main candidates, instead giving them to five non-candidates. In December, it emerged that the Russian government may have interfered in this election, and the 2019 Mueller Report concluded that Russian interference in the U.S. election contributed to Clinton's defeat and the victory of Donald Trump. In total, 26 Russian citizens and three Russian organizations were indicted, and the investigation led to the indictment and conviction of many top-level officials in the Trump campaign; however Trump and the Russian government both strenuously deny these claims, and Trump's attempts to frame the Ukrainian government for Russia's involvement contributed to his impeachment in 2019.

Share of electoral college* and popular votes** in the 58th U.S. presidential election in 2016

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Release date



United States

Survey time period


Supplementary notes

*Actual number of electoral votes:
Donald Trump- 305
Hillary Clinton - 227
Colin Powell - 3
Bernie Sanders - 1
John Kasich - 1
Ron Paul - 1
Faith Spotted Eagle - 1

**Actual number of popular votes:
Donald Trump - 62,980,160
Hillary Clinton - 65,845,063
Gary Johnson - 4,488,931
Jill Stein - 1,457,050
Bernie Sanders*** - 111,850

***Bernie Sanders appeared as a write-in candidate in 14 states.

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