Five times out of 58 presidential elections, a candidate won the presidency despite losing the popular vote, which suggests that the Electoral College vs popular vote debate should not end, as it has only affected 8.6% of the elections.
The electoral college vs popular vote debate is not new in American politics. While many believe the notion that popular vote should be the way to choose the President, thus respecting the majority, others suggest that the electoral college should be continued as per the Constitution.
Most of the time, the electoral college is won by the candidate winning the popular vote; however, it is not always the case. There are five instances in US politics when the President was elected despite losing the popular vote. Let have a look at how and when this happened.
John Quincy Adams against Andrew Jackson (1824):
This was one of the two times when a candidate became the President despite losing both the popular and the electoral votes. According to the Constitution, if no candidate gets 270 electoral votes (based on today’s situation), the matter of presidency would be decided by the House of Representatives.
The contest was between the four candidates, namely Andrew Jackson, John Q. Adams, William Crawford, and Henry Clay.
As the events unfolded, Jackson won 99 electoral votes as compared to 84 by Adams. Andrew Jackson got the majority of both the popular as well as the electoral college.
However, he failed to secure the 131 electoral votes that were necessary at that time to be the President. The matter was transferred to the Lower House of the Congress, where the House elected John Adams as the president. He became the first-ever person to become President despite losing the popular and electoral votes.
Rutherford B. Hayes against Samuel Tilden (1876):
In one of the most controversial elections of the United States, the Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden won 184 electoral votes, just one vote short of the majority required at that time.
He also won the popular vote in the election. On the other hand, Rutherford B. Hayes won 165 electoral votes. However, there were twenty disputed votes, as both the candidates claimed victory in those states. There was no constitutional mechanism to decide the disputed votes back then.
A Federal Electoral Commission was established by Congress, having representation from the Congress and Supreme Court. The commission decided to give all the disputed votes to the Republican based candidate, and Hayes won the presidency despite losing the popular and electoral college in the initial results.
Benjamin Harrison against Grover Cleveland (1888):
In this controversial election, both candidates accused each other of bribing citizens to vote in their favor. As the results of the elections came, the Democrats won the South, while the Republicans won the Western and Northern states. With a sweeping victory in the South, Democratic-based nominee Cleveland won the popular vote with a margin of 90,000 votes, yet he lost the electoral college by a significant margin of 65 votes.
In the next election, Cleveland again won the nomination for the Democrats and beat Harrison to become the only President in the history to be in the office for the two non-consecutive terms.
George W. Bush against Al Gore (2000):
The election results became streamlined for a long time, with the candidate winning the popular vote also winning the presidency through the Electoral College after 1888. However, the results changed once again in 2000, when George W. Bush won the White House against Al Gore, despite losing the popular vote. In fact, this was one of the most controversial and close elections in the history of the USA.
In Oregon, New Mexico, and Florida, the polls were too close to call; however, Gore managed to win Oregon and New Mexico by the slimmest of margins. Yet, the election in Florida was so close that state law demanded a recount. As the votes were recounted, Bush was declared the winner by the margin of 537 votes, yet Gore managed to overturn the decision by challenging the recount in the Florida court.
As the Florida court favored the Democrats, Bush challenged the decision in the Supreme Court and got the final result in his favor before assuming the presidency, even after losing the popular vote by a significant margin of more than 0.5 million votes.
Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton (2016):
Electoral college vs Popular vote debate also became the talk of the town when Donald Trump took charge of the presidency despite losing the popular vote by the biggest margin, 2.8 million votes, in the history of the USA against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
This became possible because most of the victories of Hillary Clinton were by more than thirty percent margin as compared to Trump, who won many states by a margin of less than one percent of the vote.
Despite losing the popular vote by such a huge margin, Trump managed to win the electoral college by securing 304 votes against 227 of Clinton, raising questions on the credibility of the electoral college.
Electoral College Vs Popular vote debate: Will it affect further elections?
Do all the votes matter equally? If this is the case, why is there no rule of electing the President based on the popular vote? Why do the underprivileged people have to suffer again and again due to the Electoral College? The 2016 presidential election results evince that despite getting 2.8 million more votes, Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College by a significant margin. Will this margin grow in the future, or will the concerned authorities be able to end this debate of Electoral College vs popular vote once and for all? Only time will tell.
Eli is a Political Data Scientist with over thirty years of experience in Data Engineering, Analytics, and Digital Marketing. Eli uses his expertise to give the latest information and distinctive analysis on US Political News, US Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, and Racial Justice equipping readers with the inequivalent knowledge.