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5 Presidents Who Lost the Popular Vote But Won the Election

July 23, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

These presidential candidates didn’t need to secure more popular votes to win election, due to the Electoral College system.

Of the 58 presidential elections in the history of the United States, 53 of the winners took both the Electoral College and the popular vote. But in five incredibly close elections—including those for two of the past three presidents—the winner of the Electoral College was in fact the loser of the popular vote.

Here’s how that can happen: The U.S. president and vice president aren’t elected by direct popular vote. Instead, Article II, section I of the Constitution provides for the indirect election of the nation’s highest offices by a group of state-appointed “electors.” Collectively, this group is known as the Electoral College.

READ MORE: What Is the Electoral College and Why Was It Created?

To win a modern presidential election, a candidate needs to capture 270 of the 538 total electoral votes. States are allotted electoral votes based on the number of representatives they have in the House plus their two senators. Electors are apportioned according to the population of each state, but even the least populous states are constitutionally guaranteed a minimum of three electors (one representative and two senators).

This guaranteed minimum means that states with smaller populations end up having greater representation in the Electoral College per capita. Wyoming, for example, has one House representative for all of its roughly 570,000 residents. California, a much more populous state, has 53 representatives in the House, but each of those congressmen and women represent more than 700,000 Californians.

Since most states (48 plus Washington, D.C.) award all of their electoral votes to the person who wins the statewide popular vote, it’s mathematically possible to win more electoral votes while still losing the popular vote. For example, if one candidate wins by large percentages in a handful of very populous states, for example, they’ll probably win the popular vote. But if their opponent wins a bunch of smaller states by tight margins, he or she could still win the Electoral College. That’s basically what happened in 2016.

Take a look at all five times a president won the White House while losing the popular vote.

John Quincy Adams (1824)

John Quincy Adams, 6th president of the United States.

This is the first of two occasions when the man ultimately elected president first lost both the popular vote and …read more