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Plurality and Majority

In order to win a plurality, a candidate must receive a greater number of votes than anyone running against him. If he receives 50 votes, for example, and two other candidates receive 49 and 2, he will have a plurality of one vote over his closest opponent.

However, a candidate does not have a majority unless he receives more than 50% of the total votes cast. In the example above, the candidate does not have a majority, because his 50 votes are 50% or less than the 101 votes cast.

Presidents Elected Without a Majority

Fifteen candidates (three of them twice) have become president of the United States with a popular vote less than 50% of the total cast. It should be noted, however, that in elections before 1872, presidential electors were not chosen by popular vote in all states. Adams's election in 1824 was by the House of Representatives, which chose him over Jackson, who had a plurality of both electoral and popular votes, but not a majority in the electoral college.

Besides Jackson in 1824, only three other candidates receiving the largest popular vote have failed to gain a majority in the electoral college—Samuel J. Tilden (D) in 1876, Grover Cleveland (D) in 1888, and Al Gore (D) in 2000.

The “minority” presidents are listed below.

Year President Electoral
percent
Popular
percent
1824 John Q. Adams 31.8%29.8%
1844 James K. Polk (D) 61.8 49.3
1848 Zachary Taylor (W) 56.2 47.3
1856 James Buchanan (D) 58.7 45.3
1860 Abraham Lincoln (R) 59.4 39.9
1876 Rutherford B. Hayes (R) 50.1 47.9
1880 James A. Garfield (R) 57.9 48.3
1884 Grover Cleveland (D) 54.6 48.8
1888 Benjamin Harrison (R) 58.1 47.8
1892 Grover Cleveland (D) 62.4%46.0%
1912 Woodrow Wilson (D) 81.9 41.8
1916 Woodrow Wilson (D) 52.1 49.3
1948 Harry S. Truman (D) 57.1 49.5
1960 John F. Kennedy (D) 56.4 49.7
1968 Richard M. Nixon (R) 56.1 43.4
1992 William J. Clinton (D) 68.8 43.0
1996 William J. Clinton (D) 70.4 49.0
2000George W. Bush (R)50.347.8

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

National Political Conventions Since 1856U.S. ElectionsUnusual Voting Results

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