In fact, we’re living in the most competitive era of presidential politics in the nation’s history. As the chart below shows, the 2020 election is now the ninth consecutive presidential election in which the national popular vote margin was smaller than 10 percentage points. That is the longest run of presidential contests decided by single-digit margins since the end of the Civil War.1
As it turns out, we have to go back to the years immediately following the Civil War to find a similar period of consistently competitive presidential elections. From 1876 to 1900, there were seven straight contests decided by single digits. And tellingly, the popular-vote winner also lost in the Electoral College twice during that time, in 1876 and 18882 — something that has also happened twice in our own intensely contested era, first in 2000 and again in 2016. This is significant because a split result tends to occur only when an election is exceptionally competitive.