Hillary Clinton appears to have lost the 2016 Presidential election and already before the results have been announced, Hillary Clinton's campaign has announced that she will not be coming out to make a speech tonight. Historically how often has the losing candidate decided not to come out on election night to make a statement? Is this common, extremely uncommon?

On how many occasions has a private phone call been used to concede instead of a speech, as was the case here?

  • 1
    interestingly, given your concerns she did, as the losing nominee may a call to Trump;“I just received a call from Secretary Clinton. She congratulated us, it’s about us, on our victory, and I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard fought campaign. She fought it very well. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude to our country.” Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 8:14
  • @MoziburUllah Is it common to just make a phone call on election night to concede?
    – J.Todd
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 8:37
  • my impression is that it is, it happens in the UK too. Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 8:54
  • 1
    Note that the ability to make a phone call or a televised speech on election night is a relatively new possibility in the history of the country. Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 15:21
  • 1
    It's interesting to revisit this question after the 2020 election.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


Restricting ourselves to recent history, from the first televised concession speech given by Adlai Stevenson to President Eisenhower in 1952, a great source for this information is Paul E Corcoran's article in the Political Communication journal entitled Presidential concession speeches: The rhetoric of defeat. It looks at the concession speeches from Stevenson until Bush & Perot in 1992. In particular, a surprising number have deviated from the predictable election night/morning private phone-call/telegram, public speech pattern.

Nixon 1960

Although Nixon made a public, televised speech on election night at around 3:00AM EST, he doesn't necessarily concede the election.

And I—as I look at the board here; while there are still some results still to come in—if the present trend continues, Mr.—Senator Kennedy will be the next President of the United States. I want all of you to know, I want Senator Kennedy to know and I want all of you to know [sic] that certainly if this trend does continue, and he does become our next President, that he will have my wholehearted support and yours too.

He also hadn't contacted Kennedy privately beforehand to concede, instead saying that he "presumes that he probably is listening to this program". A telegram was released congratulating Kennedy the next morning. Corcoran also notes that a report of Kennedy's victory speech noted that "The Senator had stayed up until 3:50 a.m. awaiting [a] concession and had gone to bed disappointed when the Vice President withheld it."

Goldwater 1964

In a similar style to Clinton in 2016, Barry Goldwater didn't give a televised concession speech on election night, instead opting to wire President Johnson privately - he gave a news conference the following morning. In another parallel to 2016, Johnson gave his victory speech on election night despite the lack of a public statement from Goldwater.

Dole 1996

Dole conceded the election at about 6:00 AM the morning after, according to the timestamp on C-SPAN's video of the speech - later than usual, but still arguably during election night. He also conceded to Clinton privately beforehand.

Gore 2000

The most obvious example of a lack of concession speech on election night is Al Gore's concession to Bush which took place over a month after election night, after the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the Florida recount. According to Scott Farris' book Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race But Changed the Nation;

Gore had said that on election night he felt considerable pressure “to be gracious about this,” which led him to concede perhaps too quickly when his own interests would have been served by waiting a while longer. Gore had called Bush to concede at about 2:30 a.m. EST the morning following Election Day, and that call was widely reported in the media. It was while Gore was en route to give his formal public concession speech that aides intercepted him and urged him to retract his concession because of tightening vote totals in Florida. Gore again called Bush who, incredulous, asked, “Let me make sure that I understand: You’re calling back to retract that concession?” Gore replied, “You don’t have to be snippy about it.”

Kerry 2004

The most recent example, Kerry didn't concede until the afternoon of the day after the election. This was due to his campaign's ability to remain in contention being reliant on uncounted ballots in Ohio. Once it became mathematically impossible for the Democrats to carry Ohio, he gave his concession speech, noting that he had conceded privately to President Bush in an earlier phone call.

Clinton 2016

Hillary Clinton conceded privately to President Trump on election night, at around 2:30 AM according to Kellyanne Conway, or just after AP called Pennsylvania for Trump at 1:35 AM according to Hillary in her book, What Happened. She then gave her concession speech the morning after.

In conclusion, then, although this is slightly out of the ordinary, it is not without precedent. While it lacks the same circumstances that delayed the concession speeches of Kerry & Gore, it is comparable to Dole's in 1996, and very similar to Goldwater's in 1964. A private phone call, or earlier, a telegram, to concede to one's opponent privately prior to a public speech has been made in every case since Nixon in 1960.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .