Closest State Races in U.S. Presidential Election History

The outcome of the 2020 presidential election continues to hang on a handful of key battleground states where votes are still being counted, as of Friday.

At the time of writing, the latest advance by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was made in Georgia on Friday, with a 1,097-vote lead over President Donald Trump, based on 99 percent of expected votes counted, according to data compiled by Reuters.

While the race is certainly tight between Trump and Biden in a number of states, it would take a lot more for Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania to become as close as some other state races throughout history.

Here we countdown the top five closest state races in U.S. presidential election history, according to data compiled by David Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. The website aggregates official election results from all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C.

5. California, 1880 election

Winning margin: 144 votes

  • Democratic candidate: Winfield Hancock; 80,426 popular votes
  • Republican candidate: James Garfield; 80,282 popular votes

4. Hawaii, 1960 election

Winning margin: 115

  • Democratic candidate: John Kennedy; 92,410
  • Republican candidate: Richard Nixon; 92,295

3. New Hampshire, 1916 election

Winning margin: 56

  • Democratic candidate: Woodrow Wilson; 43,781
  • Republican candidate: Charles Hughes; 43,725

2. Maryland, 1904 election

Winning margin: 51

  • Democratic candidate: Alton Parker; 109,446
  • Republican candidate: Theodore Roosevelt; 109,497

1. Maryland, 1832 election

Winning margin: 4

  • Democratic candidate: Andrew Jackson; 19,156
  • Republican candidate: Henry Clay; 19,160

The closest state race in presidential election history took place in Maryland back in 1832. The state was lost by former U.S. president Andrew Jackson who had just four votes less than his opponent Henry Clay.

Jackson later won the 1832 election with 219 electoral votes and 687,502 popular votes, defeating Clay who had 49 electoral votes and 530,189 popular votes.

Detroit Michigan count every vote November 2020
A "count every vote" sign lays outside of the TCF center where ballots are being counted in downtown Detroit, Michigan on November 4. The closest state race in U.S. presidential election history was in Maryland back in 1832. Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

The remaining votes in the 2020 election

At the time of writing, a total of over 100,000 votes still remain to be counted across Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia, according to data compiled by Edison Research for The New York Times.

As of Friday, Biden was reported to be leading Trump in electoral votes, of which 270 are required to win the election. Biden had 253 electoral votes while Trump had 214, according to data from the National Election Pool/Edison Research.

The graphic below, also provided by Statista, illustrates how close presidential races have been historically.

U.S. presidential races since 1896

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the key issues Americans voted on in the 2020 election.

Statista graph

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