The Washington primary boosts Trump over the top of George W. Bush’s record set in 2000

donaldtrump20For nearly a month, media reports have surfaced stating that Donald Trump had won (or was poised to win) more primary votes than any other Republican White House hopeful in U.S. history. And the New York businessman’s campaign had echoed that refrain.

And now, after Tuesday’s largely ignored Washington primary, Trump owns the record.

Entering the 2016 cycle, George W. Bush was the leader in the GOP clubhouse for the most primary votes, set during his 2000 campaign. The exact number of votes received by Bush is open to debate, depending on how deep a dive one takes into the variations of the contests held 16 years ago.

What follows below is as close to an apples-to-apples comparison between Trump 2016 and Bush 2000 to demonstrate that the New York businessman has in fact now become the party’s all-time primary vote leader.

George W. Bush 2000

In Bush’s first presidential campaign, votes were technically cast for him in three types of contests with presidential preference votes.

  1. Traditional primaries. The Texas governor won 10.93 million votes across 41 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
  1. Beauty Pageant’ primaries. Bush also won an additional 561,538 votes by non-Republican voters in two states where these votes did not count toward the allocation of delegates. In California, Bush won 443,304 of these ‘beauty pageant’ votes plus an additional 118,234 votes in Washington. [Bush’s votes from registered Republicans in these two western states, which did determine delegate allocation, are reflected in the ‘traditional primary’ tally above.]
  1. Caucuses. Bush won another 56,647 votes in caucuses held across five states including a non-binding straw poll in Minnesota.

Three states did not hold primaries or caucuses with a presidential preference vote that cycle: Hawaii, Kansas, and Nevada.

In New York, 384,477 voters cast ballots for Bush delegates, but the primary was set up so that it was not a direct vote for the candidate. Each voter could select up to three delegates. Votes for delegates backing Bush totaled 1,102,850 from these 384,477 voters. Because there was technically no direct presidential preference vote that cycle, New York is excluded from Bush’s 2000 primary season tally.

In sum, Bush received 11.54 million votes in binding and non-binding primaries and caucuses with a candidate preference vote.

Donald Trump 2016

Trump, meanwhile, has won votes in two types of contests with a preference vote this cycle.

  1. Traditional primaries. Trump has won 11.43 million votes across 33 states holding primaries (plus Puerto Rico) with approximately 75 percent of precincts counted in Washington from Tuesday’s vote.
  1. Caucuses. Trump has also won 251,542 votes in caucuses.

As such, Trump has won 11.68 million votes to date – or approximately 136,000 more than Bush – with votes still out in Washington and yet to be cast in five states that will hold contests in June: California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. In short, when all is said and done, Trump will easily pad his record by north of a million more votes.

Of course, comparisons of raw vote totals over time are not the most meaningful measures if one is trying to gauge relative party support or candidate electability.

Trump’s 2016 vote count benefits in part from a larger national population and a much higher raw voter turnout due in part to the much more competitive race for the nomination this cycle, lasting nearly two months longer than 2000. [John McCain dropped out of the race on March 9, 2000 with more than two-dozen states left to vote].

However, because Trump was involved in a more competitive nomination battle – with several challengers – it is also true that he ‘lost’ votes to the other candidates appearing on the ballot along the way.

Follow Smart Politics on Twitter.


  1. Robert Weller on June 20, 2016 at 10:06 am

    So the Trump claim of more than 14 million votes, which would give him more than Clinton, is false? Robert Weller

    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on June 21, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Correct – Trump ended up well shy of Clinton’s primary season vote total this cycle. (Clinton nearly reached 17 million).

Leave a Comment