Inversions in US Presidential Elections: 1836-2016
87 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2019 Last revised: 6 Oct 2020
Date Written: September 6, 2019
Inversions—in which the popular vote winner loses the election—have occurred in four US presidential races. We show that rather than being statistical flukes, inversions have been ex ante likely since the early 1800s. In elections yielding a popular vote margin within one point (one-eighth of presidential elections), about 40% will be inversions in expectation. We show this conditional probability is remarkably stable across historical periods—despite differences in which groups voted, which states existed, and which parties participated. Our findings imply that the US has experienced so few inversions merely because there have been so few elections (and fewer close elections).
Keywords: Electoral College, Inversion, Wrong Winner, Referendum Paradox, Majority Deficit, National Popular Vote
JEL Classification: H0, J1, K16
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation