Elections with False Winners


Max Lindenbaum, Journalist

In the wake of this most recent election my family and I were talking about how former President Donald Trump won the 2016 election in spite of losing the popular vote. This got me thinking, had that ever happened before? And if so, when? You may be wondering how someone who received the majority of votes can still lose in a democracy. Well you can attribute that to something call the electoral college which gives a numerical value/representation to every state based on the population, because of this a presidential candidate can crush the popular vote in the states they win and barely lose the popular vote in the states they lose, because of this a candidate can win more overall votes but still lose because they lost more states. In the history of the United States that has happened five total times.

In 1824 President John Quincy Adams received 31.6% of the votes compared to Jackson’s 42.3% . This election stands out from the other 4 because neither candidate received the full majority which left no winner, because of this the decision was left to the House of Representatives in which they voted on the winner. In 1828 President John Quincy Adams ran for a second term, in that election he lost both the popular vote and the electoral college vote.

In 1876 the year in which the centennial state was founded(Colorado), Rutherford B. Hayes won the election by one electoral vote, however his competitor Samuel J. Tiden received 50.9% of the votes and still lost, more than half of the population voted for the losing candidate. President Hayes never ran for reelection.

Just 12 years later in 1888 President Benjamin Harrison triumphed over Grover Cleveland by 65 electoral votes. One of the largest margins in history at that time which makes it ironic that the decimated candidate won 90,000 more popular votes than Harrison. Harrison ran for reelection four years later and lost both the electoral college and the popular vote.

More than a century later in 2000 George W. Bush beat his democratic opposition by 5 electoral votes but the loser (Al Gore) won half a million more votes than Bush. While that may seem like a gigantic margin, it was on .5% more of the votes because at this point the population was massive and there were over 100 million voters. Bush is the only candidate of the four that ran for reelection to be successfully reelected. In 2004 he won both the popular vote and the electoral college.

There you have it, it is possible to have the loser be the winner in a democracy. While that shouldn’t be able to happen, it can. You could make an argument to say that the electoral college should be replaced by the popular vote, but at the moment it won’t change anything and it is just something we will have to live with, for now.