But history shows that this is an unusual path. Presidents usually either expand their victory total in their reelection race, or fall to defeat. Only twice have they won reelection with fewer Electoral College votes than they received the first time around.
The historical numbers tell the tale. Prior to this year, 26 presidents have sought and received their party’s nomination for re-election; 16 of them won. Of those 16, only two received fewer actual electoral votes in his re-election campaign and still managed to win re-election: Barack Obama and Woodrow Wilson. Only Obama, Wilson and James Madison did worse proportionally in their reelection campaigns.
Wilson’s electoral numbers are skewed by the strange twists of 1912. In that election, he triumphed in a three-person race against Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Those two split the GOP vote, resulting in Wilson racking up one of the largest Electoral College margins in history, despite only getting slightly less than 42% of the popular vote. His 1916 reelection race was almost the exact opposite type of race. Wilson barely squeaked by, winning due to a combination of popularity for keeping the U.S. out of World War I and an odd feud between Republican nominee (and former Supreme Court justice) Charles Evans Hughes and California Gov. Hiram Johnson. His popular vote margin was much higher, with nearly 3 million more votes cast for Wilson’s favor than in 1912.