University of Vermont

Center for Research on Vermont

Vermont Elections; Red to Blue, Patrick Leahy, Bernie and more...

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                Vermont was the first state to be called for Hillary Clinton on election night, with one of Clinton’s highest winning margins – above 61%. It was not always this way. In fact, Vermont was a consistently Republican state into the 1980s (with the state last voting red in the election of George H.W. Bush in 1988). 

Vermonters’ ticket-splitting habits continued though, with Republican Phil Scott winning the Governor’s Office with 52% of the vote to Sue Minter’s 43%. Keeping with national trends, the Vermont Governor’s race was the most expensive in state history, topping $10 million, three times more than the last open gubernatorial race in 2010.

While we wait for the scholarship on this momentous election to emerge, here we present a special edition of the Vermont Research News focused on Vermont elections – of the past – courtesy of Michael Sherman, Editor of Vermont History.

On the matter of important Vermont elections, probably the most critical election in recent memory is Hoff's victory in 1962.  The book by Sam Hand, Anthony Marro, and Steve Terry, Philip Hoff: How Red Turned to Blue in the Green Mountain State, is the definitive work. 

Chris Graff, in his essential book on Vermont politics; Dateline Vermont, names the Hoff election No#4 on the list of major political events in Vermont. Bernie Sanders’ election as Mayor of Burlington makes it as #18.

Historian Sam Hand's book, The Star that Set, 1854-1974, is an important resource for understanding the political and electoral history of Vermont. Madeleine Kunin's autobiography, Living a Political Life, is another important book about a landmark election and political career.

Leahy biographer Phil Baruth’s recent talk on Patrick Leahy’s 1974 “Children’s Crusade” campaign can be found here. Phil describes how the 1974 campaign changed modern campaigns in Vermont.

Dean Davis's Autobiography, with Nancy Price Graff sheds light on elections and some important long-term issues. In the 1980s Frank Bryan and Clark Benson wrote several articles about Vermont elections, including; "The 1982 Election in Vermont," (Vermont History, 1983) and "Strengthening Democratic Control: Vermont's 1986 Election in Historical Perspective."

In 1980, the Center and the Vermont Historical Society convened a forum to examine the "erosion of Republican Hegemony in Vermont." The proceedings, including articles by Sam Hand, Frank Bryan and audience comments were edited by Gregory Sanford and collected into an issue of Vermont History.

Greg Sanford also wrote a fascinating case study of the "presidential boomlet" for then Governor George Aiken leading up the 1940 presidential election. The boomlet, Sanford writes "allowed Vermont to asset its influence on the Republican party."

A lower profile set of elections--socialist mayors of Barre--are discussed in Robert E. Weir, "Solid Men in the Granite City: Municipal Socialism in Barre, Vermont, 1916-1931," (Vermont History, 2015).  The final section of that article, "Postscript: The Futur of Third Party Movements?" discusses the mayoral career of Bernie Sanders.

Sanders, of course, is an important and interesting player in Vermont electoral politics, with a long history of third party attempts at the governorship and U.S. Senate, and finally the big leap into the U.S. House, when he defeated Peter Smith. Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions and Jeffrey Potash covered some of that in Freedom & Unity, and he is mentioned in Hand, The Star that Set.  The best book on the pre-Congress years is by Greg Guma, The People's Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution (1989).

And to bring us back full circle to the current election, Bernie Sanders will be in Vermont on November 22nd promoting his new book Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, in which Sanders’ shares his personal experiences from the campaign trail, the story of the revolution, and the people who made it possible. For tickets and more information, see Seven Days.

Lastly, we welcome your article suggestions on both elections and how elections have changed Vermont for a future special edition -- send along to

The Vermont Research News is a bi-monthly curated collection of Vermont research -- focused on research in the Vermont "laboratory" -- research that provides original knowledge to the world and research that adds to understanding of the state's social, economic, cultural and physical environment.

Send your news items to Editor Kirsti Blow.

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