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Image: Joe Biden at a press conference in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020.
Joe Biden at a press conference in Wilmington, Del., on March 12, 2020.Ryan Collerd / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Biden's popular-vote lead is large (and likely to grow larger)

Donald Trump is on track to be the first president since 1892 to lose the popular vote twice in successive elections.


Headed into Election Day, it was difficult to say with confidence which presidential candidate would prevail. The morning after, we still don't know for sure. But if there was one thing practically everyone could agree on, it was this inescapable detail: Joe Biden would win the popular vote.

Those expectations are looking pretty solid this morning. NBC News noted overnight:

Biden is currently winning the popular vote by more than 2 million. With much of the outstanding vote coming from urban areas, that number could widen.

In fact, that advantage is likely to grow by a considerable margin. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver noted several Democratic strongholds with yet-to-be-counted votes, which suggests Biden's popular-vote margin "is going to expand quite a bit."

What's more, Biden has already topped the popular-vote totals from both of the major-party tickets in 2016.

Time will tell whether Biden joins the ranks of candidates who lost the election despite winning more votes, but there are a couple of historical takeaways that are worth acknowledging as the process continues to unfold.

First, barring any dramatic changes, Democrats appear to have won the popular vote seven times in the last eight election cycles: 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020. The last time a party won the popular vote seven times in eight election cycles since the dawn of the two-party system in 1828? Never. It's literally never happened -- until now.

And second, Donald Trump will be the first president since 1892 to lose the popular vote twice in successive election cycles. (Benjamin Harrison won the electoral college despite losing the popular vote in 1888, and then lost both four years later.)

John Quincy Adams, incidentally, is the only other president to have lost the popular vote twice, coming up short in 1824 and 1828.

If Trump ends up winning this year, he will be the only two-term president to ever lose the popular vote twice.

Update: If Biden ends up with around 52% of the popular vote, which is what some are projecting, it would be the second best performance by a Democratic presidential nominee in the last half-century. It'd also represent a larger share of the popular vote than Reagan won in 1980, Obama won in 2012, or Clinton won in either of his two victories in the 1990s.

Second Update: MSNBC's Chris Hayes reminded me that Biden isn't just a candidate, he's also a challenger running against an incumbent president. With this in mind, it's worth emphasizing that Biden's popular-vote win is likely to be the largest for any challenger since Franklin Delano Roosevelt's victory over then-incumbent Herbert Hoover in 1932.

Third Update: As the day has progressed, Biden's popular vote totals have grown, and he's now received more votes than any presidential candidate in history. His advantage over Trump is also now larger than Hillary Clinton's popular-vote lead over Trump four years ago.