Golden Nuggets from U. S. History

The Blue Quill Series
Concord Learning Systems

Candidates with most votes who lost the presidency

How many candidates have received the most popular votes and still lost the presidency?

The question could just as well have been, "How many weird election results have there been?" In the election of 1824 Andrew Jackson won the electoral votes of 11 states to 7 for John Quincy Adams. Neither had a majority of electoral votes, throwing the decision to the House of Representatives where Adams won by 13-7. Such elections in the House are decided by state caucuses with each state having one vote.

The 1824 election was the first national election with a RECORDED POPULAR vote. Records for previous elections reflect the electoral votes but do not provide results of popular votes although it is clear that citizens were active participants. As early as Washington's second election, supporters set up liquor stills near the voting places to help the process along. There is also no record of how many elections were won or lost based on the quality of the hooch. Taverns were often the only buildings large enough to accommodate large gatherings and therefore were closed for business and used as voting places. Thus originated the practice of halting the SALE of alcoholic beverages on election day.

In the 1860 election the democrats won 47.6% to Abraham Lincoln's 39.8% but two candidates split the Democrat's electoral votes and gave Lincoln the victory.

In 1876 the Democrat's candidate, Samuel Tilden, won more votes than Rutherford B. Hayes but was one electoral vote, 185 to 184, short of a majority in the electoral college. There were twenty disputed electoral votes from four states. An electoral commission was appointed by Congress to consider the disputed votes. By a majority vote of 8 to 7 the commission gave all of them to Hayes, thus embodying a gutless practice and refining the spineless art of passing the buck. There is no provision in the Constitution for such a procedure. The Constitution says the House, under these circumstances, should ELECT the President, not adjudicate the process of the Electoral College. IF the joint meeting of House and Senate cannot count a majority vote for at least one candidate, the House has the responsibility to conduct an election in the House.

Democrat Grover Cleveland is the only man to serve split-terms as President. He won three straight popular votes but lost the middle term in 1884 in the Electoral College. His winning percentages were: 1884, 48.5% -- 1888, 48.6% -- 1892, 46.1%. In the 1888 election, Republican Benjamin Harrison received fewer popular votes, 47.8%, but more electoral votes, and became President for one term.

Beginning with the 1824 election, when recording of popular votes began, there have been 44 elections with 19 decided by less than 50%. Keep in mind, elections are actually decided by the Electoral College and someone must win a majority of Electoral College votes or the election is thrown into the House.

State Legislators appoint and make rules for the commitment of electors. For example: If a state is entitled to 10 electors (based on the total number of U.S. Senators and members of the House from that state) and a Democrat wins the popular vote of that state, then that state could appoint 10 electors to cast 10 votes for the Democrat's candidate. [States could appoint electors based on the percentages - Democrat vs. Republican - of the popular vote.] However, if that state does not BIND the electors, the actual electoral vote could be cast for someone else. This happened in the 1960 election between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The Democrats had won Alabama but 6 of 11 Alabama Electoral College representatives, and all 8 from Mississippi, voted for Senator Byrd who was not even a candidate. Kennedy, therefore, won only 23 of 50 states which clearly is not a majority states. Why then, did the election not go to the House?

The answer is one of the reasons that the Electoral College system is so confusing. The Constitution was changed in 1804 but does not say that the winner must receive a majority of the states, just that at least ONE candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes. Nixon received fewer electoral votes although he won 26 of 50 states. If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, then the election is decided by the House which may not consider more than the top three candidates, and where the vote is counted by state -- one vote per state.

List of results from 1824 to present.

Presidents by share of popular vote:
61.4% 1964 D Lyndon B Johnson
60.7% 1972 R Richard Nixon
60.5% 1920 R Warren G Harding
60.2% 1936 D Franklin D Roosevelt
58.8% 1984 R Ronald Reagan
58.0% 1928 R Herbert Hoover
57.4% 1956 R Dwight D Eisenhower
57.3% 1932 D Franklin D Roosevelt
56.0% 1828 D Andrew Jackson
55.6% 1872 R Ulysses S Grant
55.1% 1952 R Dwight D Eisenhower
55.0% 1864 R Abraham Lincoln Northern states only.
54.7% 1940 D Franklin D Roosevelt
54.2% 1924 R Calvin Coolidge
54.2% 1832 D Andrew Jackson
53.4% 1988 R George H. W. Bush
53.3% 1944 D Franklin D Roosevelt
52.9% 1840 W William H Harrison (W = Whig)
52.7% 1868 R Ulysses S Grant
51.6% 1908 R William H Taft
51.0% 1896 R William McKinley
50.8% 1976 D Jimmy Carter
50.8% 1852 D Franklin Pierce
50.8% 1980 R Ronald Reagan
50.8% 1836 D Martin Van Buren
49.7% 1960 D John F Kennedy
49.5% 1844 D James K Polk
49.4% 1948 D Harry S Truman
49.3% 1996 D Bill Clinton
49.2% 1916 D Woodrow Wilson
48.5% 1884 D Grover Cleveland
48.4% 1880 R James Garfield
48.0% 1876 R Rutherford B. Hayes (Samuel Tilden rec. slightly greater %)
47.8% 1888 R Benjamin Harrison (Grover Cleveland rec. 48.6%)
47.3% 1848 W Zachary Taylor (W = Whig)
46.1% 1892 D Grover Cleveland
46.1% 1904 R Theodore Roosevelt
45.3% 1856 D James Buchanan
43.4% 1900 R William McKinley
43.4% 1968 R Richard Nixon
43.2% 1992 D Bill Clinton
41.8% 1912 D Woodrow Wilson
39.8% 1860 R Abraham Lincoln (Democrats' 47.6% split between two candidates)
30.9% 1824 D-R John Quincy Adams (Decided in House)(D-R = Democratic-Republican)

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