Electoral College vs. popular vote in presidential elections

by John English
by John English

We’ve had 58 presidential elections, one every four years since 1788.

Twice the president was selected by Congress when no one succeeded in getting a majority of electoral votes. In both instances, Congress gave the presidency to the candidate who came in second in the popular vote. 1824’s John Quincy Adams only won 30.9% of the popular vote among four candidates. The other was 1876’s Rutherford B. Hayes, who won 47.9% of the popular vote and vowed to only serve one term.

Three other times a candidate has won the electoral college but failed to win the popular vote. They were 1888’s Benjamin Harrison (47.8%), 2000’s George W. Bush (47.9%), and 2016’s Donald Trump (46.6%).

1860’s Abraham Lincoln only captured 39.8% of the popular vote, but he won the electoral college. Other low vote-getters were 1912’s Woodrow Wilson (41.8%), 1992’s Bill Clinton (43%), 1968’s Richard Nixon (43.4%), 1856’s James Buchanan (45.3%), and 1892’s Grover Cleveland (46%).

There have been three presidential elections won by a candidate unopposed: George Washington, twice, and 1820’s James Monroe. The biggest popular-vote landslide votes belong to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The biggest landslides after 1820 were 1964’s Lyndon Johnson (61.1%), 1972’s Richard Nixon (60.7%), 1936’s FDR (60.4%), and 1920’s Warren Harding (60.3%).

Two-term presidents that failed to get 50% either time: Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Bill Clinton.

The closest election ever by popular vote was 1880. James Garfield won the electoral college, but he won the popular vote by less than 2000 votes.

1788 – George Washington – 100%
1792 – George Washington – 100%
1796 – John Adams – 53.4%
1800 – Thomas Jefferson – 61.4%
1804 – Thomas Jefferson – 72.8%
1808 – James Madison – 64.7%
1812 – James Madison – 50.4%
1816 – James Monroe – 68.2%
1820 – James Monroe – 80.6%
1824 – John Q. Adams – 30.9%*
1828 – Andrew Jackson – 56%
1832 – Andrew Jackson – 54.2%
1836 – Martin Van Buren – 50.8%
1840 – William H. Harrison – 52.9%
1844 – James K. Polk – 49.5%
1848 – Zachary Taylor – 47.3%
1852 – Franklin Pierce – 50.8%
1856 – James Buchanan – 45.3%
1860 – Abraham Lincoln – 39.8%
1864 – Abraham Lincoln – 55%
1868 – Ulysses S. Grant – 52.7%
1872 – Ulysses S. Grant – 55.6%
1876 – Rutherford B. Hayes – 47.9%*
1880 – James A. Garfield – 48.27%
1884 – Grover Cleveland – 48.9%
1888 – Benjamin Harrison – 47.8%*
1892 – Grover Cleveland – 46%
1896 – William McKinley – 51%
1900 – William McKinley – 51.6%
1904 – Theodore Roosevelt – 56.4%
1908 – William H. Taft – 51.6%
1912 – Woodrow Wilson – 41.8%
1916 – Woodrow Wilson – 49.2%
1920 – Warren G. Harding – 60.3%
1924 – Calvin Coolidge – 54%
1928 – Herbert Hoover – 58.2%
1932 – Franklin D. Roosevelt – 57.4%
1936 – Franklin D. Roosevelt – 60.4%
1940 – Franklin D. Roosevelt – 54.7%
1944 – Franklin D. Roosevelt – 53.4%
1948 – Harry Truman – 49.6%
1952 – Dwight D. Eisenhower – 55.2%
1956 – Dwight D. Eisenhower – 57.4%
1960 – John F. Kennedy – 49.72%
1964 – Lyndon B. Johnson – 61.1%
1968 – Richard Nixon – 43.4%
1972 – Richard Nixon – 60.7%
1976 – Jimmy Carter – 50.1%
1980 – Ronald Reagan – 50.7%
1984 – Ronald Reagan – 58.8%
1988 – George Bush – 53.4%
1992 – Bill Clinton – 43%
1996 – Bill Clinton – 49.2%
2000 – George W. Bush – 47.9%*
2004 – George W. Bush – 50.7%
2008 – Barack Obama – 52.9%
2012 – Barack Obama – 51.1%
2016 – Donald Trump – 46.6%*

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