Historical Figures

Which U.S. presidents were elected without winning the popular vote?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. On Election Day in 2000, television news anchors informed their audiences that they could not reveal who the next U.S. president would be. The race between George W. Bush and Al Gore was just too close to call. Ultimately, Bush would be sworn in as the 43rd president, although he didn't win the popular vote. That made President Bush the fourth president with that distinction. In 1824, John Quincy Adams became president although he lost the popular vote to Andrew Jackson; in 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes became president even though he lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden; and in 1888, Benjamin Harrison became president although he lost the popular vote to Grover Cleveland.

    The reason is that the United States uses an Electoral College system to cast deciding votes, not a direct popular vote. The method has been debated for years, and the nonpartisan League of Women Voters published a statement back in 1970 supporting direct election of the president by popular vote, along with elimination of the Electoral College. The measure passed the House and nearly passed the Senate. The League continued to introduce the position, saying that it supports one vote for one person. The Electoral College supports a "winner-takes-all" method that does not directly represent the wish of the popular vote. In 2008, delegates at the League's national convention voted to conduct a study of its proposal for a national vote [source: League of Women Voters].

    Proponents of maintaining the Electoral College system say it was the intent of our Founding Fathers and is embedded in the Constitution; they do not want to change that or to introduce "potential civil war" by electing a president who is highly popular in one area of the country and unpopular in another. Those opposed to the college say that the Founding Fathers chose the system largely because there were no political parties at the time and no national media so that voters from every state could familiarize themselves with candidates -- two considerations that are considerably different today [source: Archives].

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