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Presidential Candidates Who Won the Popular Vote But Lost the Election and Why Romney Could Be One

Nov. 6, 2012
Personal Finance
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by Susan Lyon

Editor’s note: In addition to winning the electoral vote, Barack Obama won the 2012 popular vote, with 65,918,507 (51.01 percent) vs. 60,934,407 for Mitt Romney (47.15%).

Could Romney Win the Popular Vote But Lose the Election? Yes.  

It’s happened before and it could easily happen again – and NerdWallet thinks tonight could be the night.

When has this happened before, and what will it take for it to happen this year?

The Past 4 Presidential Candidates Who Won the Popular Vote But Lost the Election

A presidential candidate has won the popular vote yet lost the election 4 times in U.S. history, because of the way our Electoral College system is set up.  NerdWallet breaks down the numbers behind the four times in U.S. history we’ve seen this scenario play itself out:

1.  1824: Andrew Jackson Won Both the Popular Vote and the Electoral College, But John Quincy Adams Still Won the Election.  How?

    • Electoral Vote: Jackson Won 99 electoral votes to John Quincy Adams’ 84 electoral votes, but because none of the candidates had secured a majority of electoral votes that was Constitutionally required to win, the House of Representatives at the time weighed in to chose Adams as the victor.
    • Why: “Acting under the Twelfth Amendment, the House of Representatives met to select the President. Speaker of the House Clay threw his support behind Adams and gave him the election by a single vote. Soon thereafter, Adams named Clay secretary of state.”

2.  1876: Samuel J. Tilden Won the Vote but Rutherford B. Hayes Won the Election

    • Electoral Vote: Hayes won 185 to Tilden’s 184 after an electoral commission was put together to decide the fiercely contested dispute.
    • Popular Vote: The popular vote was said to be 4,300,000 for Tilden to 4,036,000 for Hayes, putting Tilden slightly in the lead.

3.  1888: Grover Cleveland Won the Vote but Benjamin Harrison Won the Election

    • Electoral Vote: Harrison won 233 electoral votes to Cleveland’s 168, in what was widely received to be a rather polite and civil election as far as these disputes go.
    • Popular Vote: Cleveland received about 100,000 more popular votes than Harrison.

4.  2000: Al Gore Won the Vote But George W. Bush Won the Election

  • Electoral Vote: Bush won 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266, but it took a recount and a contentious Supreme Court decision to confirm his victory.
  • Popular Vote: The final score showed that Gore won the popular vote by 543,895 votes.

Fun Fact: John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush are the only two U.S. presidents in history whose father was also a U.S. president (John Adams and George Bush, respectively).

Will Romney Make this Gang of Four Into a Gang of Five?

Will Mitt Romney join this gang of four in 2012 – Jackson, Tilden, Cleveland, and Gore?  NerdWallet thinks this is a distinct possibility; many signs point to yes.  While we’re waiting to find out, there’s one thing you should do today: don’t forget to go vote.  These four instances show that even national elections can come down to a matter of votes.  In the meantime, here’s NerdWallet’s final election prediction: we project that Obama will bring in 303 electoral votes, compared to Romney’s 235 projected votes won based on our swing state polling model.

Susan Lyon is a senior strategy analyst for NerdWallet Investing, a financial literacy website that helps investors select better mutual funds for their 401(k) plans, find the best online broker for options trading, and make smarter investment decisions overall.

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