On Voting 12: Federal Elections Discussed As A Whole

National Elections on the Whole

One of the most intriguing approaches to analyzing the voting results of the past seventy years is a tabulation of all the votes cast to place a particular set of people in place across all federal elected offices. So, I took the total votes cast for each party’s presidential candidate and added the votes cast for each party’s Congressional candidates. I did the math for every two years.

For example, in 1970, I counted the votes cast in 1968 for the presidential candidates. I then added the votes cast for each party’s candidates in the 1970 House elections. Lastly, I added the votes cast for Senate candidates in 1966, 1968 and 1970. After all, they all held their seats during the 1970/71 term.

Election Democrat Republican Total Popular Vote
President, 1968 31,271,839 31,783,783 73,199,998
House, 1970 29,080,212 24,352,657 54,258,885
Senate, 1966 12,358,323 13,169,332 25,798,900
Senate, 1968 24,976,660 23,588,832 50,691,952
Senate, 1970 25,402,791 19,326,064 48,478,460
Totals 123,089,825 112,220,668 252,428,195


Votes were cast for Democrats 48.76% of the time while Republican candidates received 44.46% of the votes. Neither party actually received a majority of the votes cast.


Of the 37 governments seated from 1944 to 2016, neither party has obtained an outright majority of the votes 24 times. The other 13 times, the Republicans obtained the majority three times (1952-1956). People liked Ike a lot more than they liked Adlai. Democrat success tied to young, well-presented candidates (Kennedy, Kennedy’s assassination and Obama) or temporary collapse of their opponents (Watergate). The best performance by either party over the time considered occurred in 1964 when the Democrats claimed 56.69% of all relevant votes to 42.56% for Republicans. Four years later, they both dropped below 50% once again.

Regarding recent times, the Democrats managed the last majority in 2008 with 52.49% to 44.14% for the GOP. Put in practical terms, out of 536 elected offices (1 President, 100 Senators, 435 Congressmen), the Democrats deserved to fill 281 of them while the Republicans earned 237 seats. In 2006, the Democrats broke through to a majority of one with 269 seats to 250 for the Republicans. You then have to go back to 1978 to find either party having received enough votes to earn a majority of elected representation.

Currently, the parties have hit 49.75% for the Democrats and 45.84% for the Republicans. Other seats should probably be rounded out by 3 independent candidates, 8 Libertarians and 2 Greens. That would make for some interesting efforts at finding common ground.


Political commentators are prone to making wholesale generalizations which attempt to explain results retrospectively. For example, a common trope that arises when the results support it is that voters prefer different parties to control the federal legislative and executive branches. Like most after the fact analysis, it assigns intent where such cannot be found. For one thing, I suspect most voters do not enter the booth with a wholesale strategy that they have been managing for years. Voting against candidates seems like the one tactic pursued by voters followed closely by choosing people whose names sound familiar.

If nothing else, the inability of either party to dominate voting at the federal level suggests that voters continue to break down the middle even as voting numbers have dramatically increased and generations have passed. Moreover, even as dominance by one party wanes in a region, it apparently rises in another. Otherwise, the numbers would not remain even across the board.

Some might argue that the numbers suggest a need for a third party. The Libertarians look like the most successful currently. I find the idea appealing, but the challenge is seeing how that actually changes matters significantly. Mostly, I want to see the stranglehold of the two main parties broken. Perhaps that is also the true message of their inability to maintain real dominance. We require alternatives to extended power reigns.

Heading to the finish

In a couple days, I will post some concluding thoughts. Before then, I will share my last bit of data regarding the shifting party allegiance within certain states. Has the South really gone from blue to red? Spoiler- yes.

Part 1 of the series is where all this begins

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