The method the United States uses to elect its next president is via the Electoral College. Though it is effectively meaningless, it’s interesting to take a look at the percent of the popular vote each winning president received. This chart shows the US president share of the popular vote since 1960.
In the very first 1789 US election, the popular vote was not closely tracked. Back in those days, only white men that were landowners could vote, which was not a great representation of the nation as a whole. Since the expansion of voting to non-landowners, women, and minorities the popular vote has become much more representative.
If a candidate receives over 50% of the popular vote, this would suggest over half the US population supports that candidate. Despite this, due to the electoral college system the US employs, a candidate does not need to have over 50% of the popular vote to win the election.
In fact, a candidate can still win the election despite losing the popular vote to a different candidate. As we look back through history, this has happened on several different occasions.
US President Share of Popular Vote Since 1960
The most recent of these were in 2000 when George Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore, yet still won the election. The other was in 2016 when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 3 million votes, yet lost the election due to the electoral college.
There have been some extraordinarily popular presidents since 1960. Lyndon B Johnson (1964) and Richard Nixon (1972) both secured over 60%. Ronald Reagan (1984) also received just under 60% at ~59%.
One trend to notice is that most presidents running for re-election received a boost in their share of the popular vote. The best example of this was Richard Nixon from 1968 to 1972. Over this time his share of the popular vote increased from 43% to nearly 61%. Barack Obama was a notable exception in which his share of the popular vote actually decreased. Presidents who lost their re-election bids (like Jimmy Carter in 1980) are obvious exceptions as well.
The 2020 US election results are still pending, though Joe Biden is currently projected to take in just under 51% of the popular vote.