Majority and Plurality in U.S. Gubernatorial Elections

by Neal Suidan, Daniel Weaver // Published April 9, 2010

In a FairVote study of all gubernatorial general elections over a 62-year span (1948-2009) – 918 total races – it was found that in 90.4 percent of races, the winner received an outright majority of all votes cast.  Among the other races, 7.2 percent were won with 45-49.9 percent of votes cast, 1.1 percent were won with 40-44.9 percent of votes cast, and 1.3 percent were won with 35-39.9 percent of votes. No races were won with less than 35 percent of the total vote.  Most recently, of the 16 gubernatorial general elections nationwide between 2007 and 2009, one (Christopher Christie of New Jersey in 2009 – 48.8 percent) was won with less than an outright majority of votes.

Fifteen states did not have a gubernatorial election from 1948-2009 in which the winner received less than 50 percent of the vote. Those were: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia.* For a complete list of all gubernatorial elections in this span won with less than 50 percent of the vote, click here.

Of the 88 races won with less than 50 percent of the vote, Maine was the state with the most. In 7 of Maine’s 19 gubernatorial elections since 1948, the winner has received less than a majority of all votes cast. Maine also has elected four governors with less than 40 percent of the vote, a third of all such elections nationwide over the last 62 years. The state also had the winner with the smallest percentage of the popular vote (Angus King in 1994 with 35.0 percent of the vote) of any election nationwide in that span.


Winner's % of Popular Vote Number of Races Percent of all Gubernatorial Races between 1948-2007
Less than 35% 0 0.00%
35-39.9% 12 1.31%
40-44.9% 10 1.09%
45-49.9% 66 7.19%
More than 50% 830 90.41%
Total 918 100.00%


*Note: Over the span, a handful of states have had some form of required runoff. Currently, only Louisiana and Georgia have required general election runoffs.