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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Clinton and the Popular Vote

Q: Did Clinton win the popular vote?

A: Obama won more votes unless you count Michigan, where he wasn’t on the ballot.


Did Hillary Clinton actually end up with more popular votes than Barack Obama? Given that there is some discussion on whether to count the popular votes of Michigan and Florida, as well as how to count caucus votes, who did end up with the higher count?


After the primary season wrapped up on Tuesday, Clinton commended her supporters and claimed once again that she had won the popular vote: "Nearly 18 million of you cast your votes for our campaign, carrying the popular vote with more votes than any primary candidate in history."

Did she? Now that all the primaries and caucuses are over we can take one, final look.

Obama won more total votes than Clinton in the contests where they both appeared on the ballot. Clinton won the popular vote only if you count votes from Michigan, where Obama’s name did not appear on the ballot.

Any way you cut it, the candidates’ vote totals are within less than 1 percent of each other. Both candidates got roughly 18 million votes, but since four states don’t list official counts, the precise totals can’t be known.

The political Web site Real Clear Politics has an excellent tally, with links to official reports from state election authorities. Those show that even counting Clinton’s win in Florida, where the two were on the ballot but did not campaign due to the state’s violation of party rules, Obama beat Clinton in the popular vote by 41,622 votes – a small margin, only 0.1 percent. Obama’s margin grows to 151,844 votes, or 0.4 percent, when estimates are included for Iowa, Nevada, Maine and Washington, which did not release official totals of popular votes.

Only by counting Michigan, where Clinton’s name was on the ballot but Obama’s was not, can Clinton claim to have won more votes. Counting only officially reported results, Michigan puts Clinton’s total ahead nationally by 286,687 votes or 0.8 percent. Once estimated votes from the four non-reporting states are included, the margin becomes less significant: 176,465 votes, or 0.5 percent. And if Michigan’s "uncommited" votes were accorded to Obama, he’d have a 61,703-vote lead (0.2 percent), counting estimates from the non-reporting states.

For the record, Clinton hasn’t always been so eager to count Michigan votes. On Oct. 11, 2007, she said of the state, "It’s clear, this election they’re having isn’t going to count for anything." But that was when she was wooing New Hampshire voters, who cherish their first-in-the-nation primary and who were upset that Michigan was violating party rules designed to protect it. She was responding to an interviewer for New Hampshire Public Radio who asked, "So, if you value the DNC calendar, why not just pull out of Michigan? Why not just say, ‘Hey Michigan, I’m off the ballot?’ " Clinton went on to win the New Hampshire primary.

–Brooks Jackson, with Jess Henig



"2008 Democratic Popular Vote." Real Clear Politics, Web site accessed 30 May 2008.

The Associated Press. "Clinton Defends Michigan Ballot Stand," 11 Oct. 2007.