Five Times the Candidate Without the Popular Vote Became the U.S. President
The Electoral College plays a role in the selection of the next president of the United States. Usually, the candidate that got the most votes (also called the popular vote) is the person who becomes president. There have been five times when the candidate who did not get the popular vote became President of the United States.
The Election of 1824
Four men, all of whom were from the Democratic-Republican party, were running for president. Secretary of State Andrew Jackson (home state Tennessee), Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford (home state Georgia), Speaker of the House Henry Clay (home state Kentucky) and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (home state Massachusetts).
At the time, the Electoral Collage had a total of 261 electoral votes. A candidate needed to get 131 electoral college votes to win. The totals were:
- John Quincy Adams — 113,122 popular votes (30.9%) — 84 Electoral College votes
- Andrew Jackson — 151,271 popular votes (41.4%) — 99 Electoral College votes
- William H. Crawford — 40,856 popular votes (11.2%) — 41 Electoral College votes
- Henry Clay — 47,531 popular votes (13.0%) — 37 Electoral College votes
Andrew Jackson got the popular vote. None of the candidates were able to get 131 Electoral College votes. The result was decided by the members of the U.S. House of Representatives under the terms of the 12th Amendment.
The Representatives had to choose from the three leading candidates (based on Electoral College votes): Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, or William H. Crawford. Henry Clay was dropped because he had the least Electoral College votes.
William H. Crawford was critically ill after suffering a stroke. Henry Clay threw his support behind John Quincy Adams. It appears that this made a difference in the outcome of the election.
The Representatives voted this way:
- John Quincy Adams got the votes of 13 states.
- Andrew Jackson got the votes of 7 states.
- William H. Crawford got the votes of 4 states.
Andrew Jackson had the popular vote — but John Quincy Adams became President of the United States.
Later, John Quincy Adams made Henry Clay his Secretary of State. This decision didn’t look good to Andrew Jackson’s supporters. They referred to the arrangement as the “corrupt bargain”. Andrew Jackson resigned from the Senate.
The Election of 1876
This election was between Rutherford B. Hayes (Republican party) and Samuel J. Tilden (Democratic party). Samuel J. Tilden got 4,288,546 of the popular vote (50.9%). Rutherford B. Hayes got 4,034,311 of the popular vote (47.9%).
History.com has a lot of information about the election of 1876. It explains that on Election Day, the Democrats appeared to come out on top by winning the swing states of Connecticut, Indiana, New York and New Jersey. By midnight, Samuel J. Tilden had 184 of the 185 electoral votes needed to win, and was leading the popular vote by 250,000.
The Republicans refused to accept defeat. This led to the Compromise of 1887. Congress set up an electoral commission that consisted of five U.S. representatives, five senators, and five Supreme Court Justices. The members included seven Democrats, seven Republicans, and one independent.
Justice David Davis was the independent. He refused to serve, and was replaced by Republican Justice Joseph Bradley. There were now seven Democrats and eight Republicans on the committee.
While the electoral commission was deliberating, Republican supporters of Rutherford B. Hayes met in secret with moderate southern Democrats in the hopes of convincing the Democrats not to block the official counting of votes through filibuster. They wanted the Democrats to let Hayes win the election.
The southern Democrats agreed to do what the Republicans wanted them to. In exchange, the southern Democrats wanted the Republicans to withdraw all federal troops from the South. Doing so would consolidate Democratic control in the region.
The electoral commission voted 8–7 along party lines to award all the disputed electoral votes to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes ended up with 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184 electoral votes. The result was that Rutherford B. Hayes became the President of the United States.
The Election of 1888
This election was between Benjamin Harrison (Republican party) and Grover Cleveland (Democratic party). Grover Cleveland was the incumbent and got 5,534,488 of the popular vote (48.6%). Benjamin Harrison got 5,443,892 of the popular vote (47.8%).
The election was not without controversy. The Times Union reported (in an article posted on October 22, 2016):
…Cleveland was favored to win. But he was potentially vulnerable to charges of being pro-British because he favored lower tariffs (which could help British manufacturers) and an equitable settlement of a fisheries dispute with Canada (an independent nation but a former British colony whose foreign policy the British still dominated)…
The British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States, Lionel Sackville-West received a letter from George Osgoodby (a Republican who was pretending to be Charles F. Murchison.)
The real Charles F. Murchison was a British expatriate who had become a naturalized American citizen. In the letter, “Murchison” asked ambassador Lionel Sackville-West’s advice about which candidate to vote for in the upcoming November election.
In the letter, “Murchison” said Cleveland had been “favorable and friendly” toward Britain and that naturalized citizens (like himself) favored Cleveland. “Murchison” called Cleveland “the one above all Americans” the naturalized British citizens “consider their own and their country’s best friend.”
Lionel Sackville-West thought the letter was actually from Charles F. Murchison. (It wasn’t.) Sackville-West responded to the letter saying that Cleveland had to avoid seeming to favor British interests during the campaign. However, Sackville-West wrote, Cleveland would resume his “spirit of conciliation” towards Britain after winning the campaign.
Republican officials knew about the “Murchison Letter” since September, but they sat on it until shortly before the presidential election. The letter was published in newspapers, and Republican speakers took to the campaign trail in races that were close to push the message that Grover Cleveland was subservient to Britain.
Using what would today be called “fake news”, the Republicans were able to sway the election. Voters turned against Grover Cleveland. Irish-Americans especially were now turned off by Cleveland. The Times Union reported that the Irish-Americans “loathed Britain because of its policies toward their homeland.”
Grover Cleveland got 5,534,488 of the popular vote (48.6%). Benjamin Harrison got 5,443,892 of the popular vote (47.8%).
The 270 To Win website has details about the electoral college votes:
Benjamin Harris got a total of 233 electoral college votes. The votes came from California (8), Nevada (3), Oregon (3), Colorado (3), Nebraska (3), Kansas (9), Minnesota (7), Iowa (13), Wisconsin (11), Illinois (22), Indiana (15), Michigan (13), Ohio (23), Pennsylvania (30), New York (36), Vermont (4), New Hampshire (4), Maine (6), Massachusetts (14) and Rhode Island (4).
Grover Cleveland got a total of 168 electoral college votes. The votes came from Texas (13), Louisiana (8). Arkansas (7), Missouri (16), Mississippi (9), Alabama (10), Georgia (12), Florida (4), South Carolina (9), North Carolina (11), Tennessee (12), Kentucky (13), West Virginia (6), Virginia (12), Connecticut (6), New Jersey (9), Delaware (3), and Maryland (8).
Republican Benjamin Harris won the 1888 election, in part due to the “fake news” spread by newspapers and Republican speakers.
The Election of 2000
This election was between George W. Bush (Republican party) and Al Gore (Democratic party). The election was chaotic.
Dummies.com has information about the presidential election of 2000. It describes Election night 2000 as a “cliffhanger that went on for weeks.” Many people went to bed that night thinking that Al Gore had won, only to discover in the morning that George W. Bush had been declared the winner.
The state of Florida played a big role in the outcome of the 2000 election. By the end of Election Day, the answer to who had won Florida’s electoral votes was still undecided. Between 7:50 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, all major television networks (CNN, NBC, FOX, CBS, and ABC) declared that Al Gore had recieved Florida’s 25 electoral votes. This was announced just before the polls closed in Florida, and the prediction was based on exit polls.
In the actual vote tally, George W. Bush began to take a wide lead in Florida. By 10:00 p.m., the television networks put Florida back in the “undecided” column. At about 2:30 a.m., the day after Election Day, about 85% of Florida’s vote had been counted. George W. Bush led Al Gore by more than 100,000 votes. So, the television networks declared George W. Bush to be the winner.
There was a problem, however. Not all of Florida’s votes had been counted. The remaining votes were mostly from three heavily Democratic counties — Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach. At about 4:30 a.m., after all the votes had been counted, Al Gore had narrowed George W. Bush’s lead to under 2,000 votes. The television networks retracted their prediction that Bush had won.
Somewhere along the way, Al Gore had privately conceded the race to George W. Bush. Gore withdrew his concession after the Florida votes had been counted. The final result in Florida was slim enough to require a mandatory recount (by machine) under state law. It is worth noting that the Governor of Florida at the time was Jeb Bush (George W. Bush’s younger brother).
A case called Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board was heard by the Florida Supreme Court. The Florida Supreme Court ordered that the Circuit Court in Leon County tabulate by hand 9,000 contested ballots from Miami-Dade County. It also ordered every county in Florida to immediately begin manually recounting all “under-votes” (ballots that did not indicate a vote for president) because there were enough contested ballots to place the outcome of the election in doubt.
Governor of Texas George W. Bush, and his running mate Richard “Dick” Cheney, filed a request for review by the United States Supreme Court. They also sought an emergency petition for a stay of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court granted review and issued the stay on December 9, 2000.
The Supreme Court Justices voted 5–4 to put a stop to the Florida recount. The Supreme Court ruled that allowing the recount to go forward would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court, who had to dismiss the case.
George W. Bush (Republican party) got 50,456,002 of the popular vote (47.8%) Al Gore (Democratic Party) got 50,999.897 of the popular vote (48.4%). George W. Bush got 271 electoral votes, and Al Gore got 266 electoral votes. Republican George W. Bush won the election of 2000.
Dummies.com explains the outcome: “The presidential election of 2000 had been decided, in essence, by the vote of one Supreme Court justice.”
The Election of 2016
The election was between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Democratic party) and businessman Donald J. Trump (Republican party).
Britannica.com has information about the 2016 election, including some of the many controversial things that happened.
Here are a few:
- During the Republican primaries, Donald J. Trump made disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants. He said, “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” This alienated Latino voters.
- During the Republican primaries, Donald J. Trump made fun of his opponents. He called Jeb Bush “low energy”. He called Marco Rubio “Little Marco”. He called Ted Cruz “Lyin’ Ted”. He insulted Carly Fiorina’s physical appearance.
- In July of 2016, WikiLeaks released nearly 200,000 hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The emails showed DNC officials tilting towards Hillary Clinton and ridiculing her Democratic opponent, Bernie Sanders.
- In July of 2016, FBI Director James Comey issued his report about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server located in her Chappaqua, New York, home. Comey said Clinton was “extremely careless” in her handling of national security information.
- At the Republican Convention, Donald J. Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, was accused of plagiarizing part of her speech from former First Lady Michelle Obama.
- While the Democratic Convention was happening, Donald J. Trump unleashed Twitter attacks on the Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier who was killed in Iraq after the soldier’s parents criticized Donald J. Trump at the Democratic Convention.
- In August of 2016, news reports suggested that Donald J. Trump’s second campaign manager, Paul Manafort, may have taken cash payments from a pro-Russia Ukranian political party.
- In September of 2016, Hillary Clinton told a fund-raising audience that half of Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables… Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.”
- Also in September of 2016, Hillary Clinton collapsed while leaving an event for the September 11 attacks in New York City. Trump’s campaign used it to imply that Clinton was not up to the rigors of the presidency. Clinton’s aides revealed she was recovering from pneumonia.
- An unaired tape from a 2005 episode of Access Hollywood was released. It showed Trump bragging about taking sexual liberties with women. (“When you’re a star… you can do anything… grab them by the pussy”).
- WikiLeaks released nearly 500,000 emails from the account of Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. By then, federal agents strongly suspected that Russian actors were WikiLeak’s sources.
- On October 28, 2016, FBI Director James Comey wrote a letter to Congress announcing that the FBI was reopening the private server matter after having found a trove of new emails on a laptop owned by Anthony Weiner (a disgraced former congressman married to top Clinton aide Huma Abdin). Two days before election day, Comey declared that the emails did not change the investigation’s conclusions and closed the case.
Hillary Clinton got 65,853,514 of the popular vote (48.2%). Donald J. Trump got 62,984,828 of the popular vote (46.1%). Donald J. Trump got 304 electoral votes. Hillary Clinton got 227 electoral votes.
The 270 to Win website reported:
In the Electoral College vote on December 19, there were seven faithless electors; two defected from Trump while five defected from Clinton. Three other Clinton electors attempted to defect but were replaced or forced to vote again due to their respective state laws. Ultimately, Trump received 304 electoral votes and Clinton garnered 227, while Colin Powell won three, and John Kasich, Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders, and Faith Spotted Eagle each received one.
Hillary Clinton got electoral votes from Washington (8), Oregon (7), California (55), Nevada (6), Colorado (9), New Mexico (5), Minnesota (10), Illinois (20), Maine (3), New Hampshire (4), Vermont (3), New York (29), New Jersey (14), Rhode Island (4), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Maryland (10), and Washington D.C. (3).
Donald J. Trump got electoral votes from Idaho (4), Montana (3), Wyoming (3), Utah (6), Arizona (11), North Dakota (3), South Dakota (3), Nebraska (5), Kansas (6), Oklahoma (7), Texas (36), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (6), Missouri (10), Arkansas (6), Louisiana (8). Mississippi (6), Alabama (9), Georgia (16), Florida (29), North Carolina (9) South Carolina (15), Tennessee (11), Kentucky (8), West Virginia (5), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Indiana (11), Michigan (16) and one from Maine.
There have been a total of five presidential elections where the candidate who won the popular vote did not become President of the United States. The first time this happened, all four candidates were from the same party. In the other four times it happened, the Republican candidates became president.