A Look Back At Presidential Elections In WV Over The Last 60 Years

This is the 16th presidential election since 1960, so I looked back at the previous 15 to see how West Virginians voted and what stood out about those elections.

The presidential elections in West Virginia have not been very close over the last 60 years. The average margin of victory by the winning candidate is a whopping 16 points.  However, that number is skewed by a few lopsided outcomes.

The most one-sided was just four years ago when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 42 points, 69-27.  But there have been others. Lyndon Johnson finished 34 points ahead of Barry Goldwater in 1964 (67-33) and Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in West Virginia by 28 points (64-36) in 1972.

The closest presidential election in the state in the last 60 years occurred in the 1980s. Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, but he carried West Virginia 50-46 (independent John Anderson got four percent).

It was similar in 1988.  Michael Dukakis lost the national election to George H.W. Bush, but carried West Virginia 52-48.

The 1960 presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was razor tight nationally.  Kennedy won by just 0.17 of a percentage point.  However, Kennedy’s campaigning in West Virginia during the primary paid off and he won here by six points, 53-47.

The 1960 election turned out the most voters in the state in the last 60 years—837,781.  Since then, the number of voters has steadily dropped, down to 713,051 in the last presidential election. However, keep in mind that the state’s population has declined steadily during that period.

Bill Clinton won two national elections and carried West Virginia twice—by 13 points over George H.W. Bush in 1992 and by 14 points over Bob Dole four years later.

The independent candidate in both of those races was Ross Perot and he has had more success in the state than any other third party candidate since 1960.  He got 16 percent of the vote in 1992 and eleven percent in the following election.

George Wallace ran an independent campaign in 1968.  Nine percent of West Virginia voters supported him while 50 percent voted for Hubert Humphrey and 41 percent for Richard Nixon.   John Anderson campaigned in West Virginia as an independent in 1980, but he received only four percent of the vote.

Clinton was the last Democrat to win West Virginia.  Since then, Democratic presidential candidates have lost ground here every election, from 46 percent for Al Gore in 2000, to 43 percent for Barack Obama in 2008, to just 36 percent for Obama the following election, and down to only 27 percent for Hillary Clinton four years ago.

West Virginia’s influence in the electoral college has waned over the last 60 years.   The state has lost three congressional seats during that time because of population decline and as a result the number of electors—which is equal to the number of members of the House of Representatives plus two U.S. Senators—has dropped from eight to five.





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