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Prior Presidential Election Rematches Predict Decisive Biden Victory in 2024

By: Miriam Edelman

Most Americans are experiencing something brand new. For the first time in almost 70 years, a rematch of a presidential election between the same major political party nominees is happening. President Joe Biden is facing Former President Donald Trump, who is also the first President to be impeached twice and to become a convicted felon. Although the first four of the nations’ six Presidential rematches were won by the initial loser, the two rematches since 1896 were won by the incumbent, who won a higher number of popular votes, a higher percentage of popular votes, and a higher number of electoral votes than he won in the first election. On this record, President Joe Biden should win decisively in November 2024. As will be explained later, the recent presidential debate does not change anything.

 

The 2024 election between current presumptive Democratic presidential nominee President Biden and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Trump election is the seventh Presidential rematch in U.S. history. Rematches discussed here generally do not include minor candidates, such as Eugene Debs (who as a Socialist ran against William Howard Taft in 1908 and 1912). Rematches are general election rematches. Hence, since Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was never the Democratic presidential nominee, 2016 is not part of an election set (even though Sanders and Trump both ran for President in 2016 and 2020), The six prior elections sets were 1796/1800 (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson), 1824/1828 (John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson), 1836/1840 (Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison), 1888/1892 (Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland), 1896/1900 (William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan), and 1952/1956 (Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson). Interestingly, the first four rematches featured the first two sets of direct descendant Presidents (Father/son – Adams/Quincy Adams) (Grandfather/grandson – Harrison/Harrison).

 

Throughout U.S. history, usually, the loser of the first election wins the second election. There were unique features in some of the early election sets. In three of the first four election sets, the House decided the victor, and/or the popular vote winner did not become President. In the fourth election set, one candidate won the popular and electoral votes in the first election (Van Buren/1836) and the other candidate won the popular and electoral votes in the rematch election (Harrison/1840).

 

In the past 127 years, the same Presidential candidate won both elections (original and rematch). In both rematches (compared to the original elections), the winning candidate did better (in electoral votes and number and percent of popular votes), and the losing candidate did worse (in electoral votes and number and percent of popular votes). Hence, if history predicts the future, Biden should defeat Trump again (in 2024), doing better in all three measures while Trump should do worse in those three metrics.

 

Looking at individual sets of elections (original and rematch elections) yields noteworthy information regarding the relative popularity of the two candidates. One election in each of the first two sets of original and rematch elections (1800 and 1824) was decided by the House of Representatives; in both of these sets, the first-election loser won the next election. Those elections were the only ones in U.S. history that the House decided. The elections of 1824 and 1888 (which were both the original elections in their election sets) were two of the five elections in American history when the person who lost the popular vote won the Presidency. In 1824, Quincy Adams lost the popular vote and the electoral vote. However, since no one received the majority of the electoral votes, the House selected the victor, choosing Quincy Adams. 1824 was the only time in U.S. history when the person who lost the popular vote and who did not have a majority or plurality of the electoral vote became President. Not surprisingly, the rematches of both 1828 and 1892 were won by the previous presidential election’s popular vote winner (1828 – Andrew Jackson) (1892 – Grover Cleveland).

 

Can Trump become just the second President to be elected to a second non-consecutive term? Trump should face an uphill battle to reclaim the Presidency in terms of a popular vote. In the 2016 Republican Presidential primaries, he was helped by a crowded field, which enabled him to become the Republican Presidential nominee with just a plurality of support among Republicans. During both of his previous instances as the Republican presidential nominee, he lost the popular vote, gaining just 46.0 percent in 2016 and 46.9 percent in 2020. The only President to win the Presidency after losing the popular vote the first time was George W. Bush, who could have been assisted by wars while running for reelection in 2004. Three of the other four popular vote losers/electoral vote winners (John Adams, Grover Cleveland, and Donald Trump) lost when running for reelection, and the fourth such President (Rutherford B. Hayes) did not run for re-election. Can Trump defy history and be elected in November 2024?

 

Unlike Bush who was helped by wars between his two presidential general elections (2000 and 2004), Trump should be hurt by the intervening events between his first, and second and third elections. Since losing to Biden in the original 2020 election, there was an insurrection on January 6, 2021, which marked the first non-peaceful transition of power in U.S. history. In addition, Trump has become embroiled in multiple civil and criminal cases. He was found civilly liable and was convicted of 34 felonies. He faces criminal charges in three additional cases (Florida, Georgia, and Washington, D.C.). Now, as a convicted felon who lost many rights due to his conviction, he is trying to retake the White House.

 

Prior to the 2024 election, the only rematch election that featured the incumbent President challenged by the last President (whom the incumbent defeated to win a second term) was the 1892 election between Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland. However, key differences between these two rematches exist. Unlike Cleveland, who won the popular vote when he was defeated in 1888, Biden won the popular vote when he defeated Trump in 2020. Cleveland’s party had significant losses in the 1890 midterm elections, perhaps foreshadowing the 1892 elections, although the President’s party usually loses Congressional seats in midterm elections. However, even though Biden’s Democratic party lost control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections, the Democrats did substantially better than expected even gaining a seat in the Senate and keeping Democratic control of the Senate.

 

The following table, which generally does not include information on minor party candidates (except for 1796 and 1800 because Aaron Burr got many electoral votes in 1800), gives more detailed information on previous election sets and the first election of the current one. Britannica, which is used as the source for this table’s historical elections information, does not include popular votes information for the first set of elections:

Color code:

-          The Electoral Vote Results and Popular College Results cell of the years when the popular vote popular vote winner did not become President are highlighted in green.

-          The years in which the House decided the presidential election are highlighted in light blue.

-          The names of the winners of both the original and rematch elections are highlighted in yellow.

Year

Winning Presidential Candidate and Political Party

Other Major Candidate and Political Party

Other Major Candidate and Political Party

Electoral Vote Results (Number of Electoral Votes)

Popular College Results (Number of votes and Percent)

John Adams (Independent-Federalist)

Thomas Jefferson (Democrat-Republican)

Aaron Burr (Antifederalist)

Adams (71), Jefferson (68), Burr (30)

 

Thomas Jefferson (Democrat-Republican)

John Adams (Independent-Federalist)

Aaron Burr (Democrat-Republican)

Jefferson (73), John Burr (73), Adams (65) – Since Jefferson and Burr had the same number of electoral votes, the House decided the victor, choosing Jefferson.

 

John Quincy Adams (No Distinct party designations)

Andrew Jackson (No Distinct party designations)

 

Quincy Adams (84), Jackson (99) – Since no one had a majority of electoral votes, the House selected the winner, choosing Quincy Adams.

Quincy Adams (108,740) (30.9%), Jackson (153,544) (41.3%)

Andrew Jackson (Democratic)

John Quincy Adams (National Republican)

 

Jackson (178), Quincy Adams (83)

Jackson (647,286) (56.0%), Quincy Adams (508,064) (43.6%)

Martin Van Buren (Democratic)

William Henry Harrison (Whig)

 

Van Buren (170), Harrison (73)

Van Buren (762,678) (50.8%), Harrison (550,816) (36.6%)

William Henry Harrison (Whig)

Martin Van Buren (Democratic)

 

Harrison (234), Van Buren (60)

Harrison (1,275,016) (52.9%), Van Buren (1,129,102) (46.8%)

Benjamin Harrison (Republican)

Grover Cleveland (Democratic)

 

Harrison (233), Cleveland (168)

Harrison (5,439,853) (47.8%), Cleveland (5,540,309) (48.6%)

Grover Cleveland (Democratic)

Benjamin Harrison (Republican)

 

Cleveland (277), Harrison (145)

Cleveland (5,556,918) (46.1%), Harrison (5,176,108) (43.0%)

William McKinley (Republican)

William Jennings Bryant (Democratic)

 

McKinley (271), Bryan (176)

McKinley (7,104,779) (51.0%), Bryan (6,502,925) (46.7%)

William McKinley (Republican)

William Jennings Bryant (Democratic)

 

McKinley (292), Bryan (155)

McKinley (7,207,923) (51.7%), Bryan (6,358,133) (45.5%)

Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican)

Adlai Stevenson (Democratic)

 

Eisenhower (442), Stevenson (89)

Eisenhower (33,778,963) (54.9%), Stevenson (27,314,992) (44.4%)

Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican)

Adlai Stevenson (Democratic)

 

Eisenhower (457), Stevenson (73)

Eisenhower (35,581,003) (57.4%), Stevenson (25,738,765) (42.0%)

Joe Biden (Democrat)

Donald Trump (Republican)

 

Biden (306), Trump (232)

Biden (81,268,924) (51.3%), Trump (74,216,154) (46.9%)

 

As it is crucial that former President Donald Trump does not retake the Presidency, President Joe Biden must stay in the presidential race. Concerned about Biden’s performance during the June 27, 2024, Presidential debate (although Trump evaded questions and told many lies), many people are calling on Biden to withdraw from the race. As Lincoln Project advisor Stuart Stevens wrote, “One debate does not change the structure of this presidential campaign. For all the talk of Mr. Biden’s off night, what is lost is that Mr. Trump missed a great opportunity to reset his candidacy and greatly strengthen his position.”

 

Biden’s leaving the race and being replaced could be a recipe for disaster. Democrats could learn from 1968, when incumbent Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced on March 31, 1968, that he would not run for reelection. Unlike Biden, LBJ faced serious primary competition. Nevertheless, LBJ’s withdrawal from the 1968 race led to chaos in the Democratic party, something that could happen if Biden also withdraws. Johnson’s exit helped Republicans, and in November 1968, former Republican Vice President Richard Nixon was elected President. Some believe that Trump might have a better chance of winning reelection if Biden quits his reelection campaign than if Biden continues in the race. As Ezra Klein wrote recently, “The best case against replacing Biden is that doing so at this late hour would be riskier than keeping him.” As American University’s history professor Allan Lichtman, who correctly predicted nine of the past ten presidential elections, Biden is the best choice for Democrats and will win this November.

 

Democrats should not count Biden out. After Biden performed sub optimally in Iowa (placing fourth) and New Hampshire (placing fifth) and did better in Nevada (placing second), the centrist Democratic establishment quickly united behind Biden soon before Super Tuesday in 2020. They did so presumably to avoid repeating the problems inherent in a crowded field that landed Trump the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. In 2020, Biden came back, and he can do so again in 2024.

 

In November 2024, let’s do 2020 again. Let’s elect Biden and defeat Trump. This election should not be close at all. Biden should defeat Trump, especially as Trump is a convicted felon who also has been found liable for sexual abuse.

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